Recently, a U.S. district judge ruled that Pfizer was obligated to pay approximately $1.8 million in punitive damages to a woman who developed breast cancer after taking the company’s menopause drug. Despite its widespread recognition, the term punitive damages remains largely misunderstood.
What are punitive damages?
In Colorado, punitive or exemplary damages are designed to punish wrongdoers for engaging in fraud, malice, and willful and wanton conduct. Willful and wanton conduct is behavior that is undertaken purposefully and without attention to others’ safety or rights.
Establishing a punitive damages claim
To succeed in a punitive damages claim, you need to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the conduct was willful, wanton, malicious or fraudulent. Examples of misconduct that might meet this standard include:
A communications company that fails to regularly inspect equipment such as utility poles for dangerous conditions.
A business owner who sets fire to a competitor’s business to "get even."
Punitive damages limits in Colorado
Under Colorado law, punitive damages are usually limited to the amount of the actual damage award. A court may also reduce or block an award of punitive damages even after a jury decides in favor of the award.