Understanding Damages

by | Nov 30, 2015

Attorneys are responsible for understanding proper damages in a legal matter: the amount and type of damages to claim in a lawsuit or whether the amount of damages awarded by a court should be challenged as unreasonable, unjust, or inequitable. Plaintiffs will bring claims for damages in all manner of cases, from wrongful death claims to claims for breach of contract. Having an experienced attorney, such as Durham’s Mark Hayes, to properly calculate how much a person or business should claim in damages, or to firmly challenge the damages claimed by an opponent, is extremely valuable.

For example, a court can award punitive damages to punish a defendant for “egregiously wrongful acts” and to deter people from committing similar wrongful acts in the future. Punitive damages awards are typically very large sums of money, frequently constituting the majority of a claim or award for damages. They constitute a recovery above compensatory damages, or the damages necessary to make the injured party whole again. However, the provision for frivolous claims provides an important deterring consideration in deciding whether to claim punitive damages. This provision states that if a person or entity brings a frivolous or malicious claim against another, essentially suing someone over nothing or suing someone simply to drag him into court, the person bringing the claim can be compelled to pay the attorney’s fees of the opposing party. This provision, which can be used against individual claims for damages, means that if a court determines that a claim (including a claim for punitive damages) is frivolous or malicious, the court can compel the claimant to pay the defending party’s costs for defending against the claim.

For example, if an employee brings a breach of contract claim against an employer for unpaid wages or wrongful termination, and the employee claims punitive damages, the court will determine whether or not the employer’s actions constituted “egregiously wrongful acts.” If the court concludes that no such acts were committed, the court could compel the employee to pay for the employer’s attorney’s fees in defending against this punitive damages claim. “The frivolous claims provision is an important check on a claimant’s desire to bring as large a claim as they think they can,” said Hayes, “but it’s also important to make sure that a court reaches the right decision when they rule that a claim for punitive damages, or any claim for damages, was frivolous or malicious.”

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