Whether fictitious television plots or real life events, the ultimate goal of any high profile Personal Injury lawsuit is an award of punitive damages. In essence, punitive damages are meant to penalize defendants for actions that violated the rights of or injured another person. Punitive damages tend to be very high so as to deter the defendant from acting similarly in the future. Usually, the defendant's actions must have been grossly negligent, reckless, or intentional in order to garner these exemplary damages.
Everyone remembers the spilled McDonald's coffee lawsuit from the 1990's - a New Mexico jury awarded the Plaintiff $160,000 in compensatory damages, plus and additional $2.7 million in punitive damages. While the Washington legislature has allowed for several situation where punitive damages are allowed - our home state is only one of nine states that prohibits a Personal Injury plaintiff from recovering punitive damages. As a result, if the McDonald's coffee lawsuit had taken place in Washington, the initially awarded damage would have been much less.
This law is important for potential plaintiffs to understand because here in Washington, damages are not as they appear in Hollywood dramas. So, if you want your local coffee accident to make you an instant millionaire, perhaps a nice letter to your state representatives would be in order. However, until that time occurs, at Magnuson Lowell, we will always give you a fair analysis of your claim and make sure you are armed with all the necessary information before making these important decisions.