What Are Punitive Damages?

What are punitive damages?  How frequently are they awarded in Tennessee?

Punitive damages are awarded only in cases where the defendant acted intentionally, knowingly, maliciously, or recklessly.   Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer and deter both the wrongdoer and others from similar conduct in the future.  

In Tennessee one must prove they are entitled to punitive damages by "clear and convincing" evidence.  This is a higher burden than applies in the typical civil case, where liability and damages must be proved by only  preponderance of the evidence.

According to Tennessee Jury Verdict Report –  Year in Review 2010 there have been punitive damages awarded in only 59 jury trials in Tennessee in the last six years.  During that period, there were over 1200 jury trials.  Thus, you can see that punitive damages are awarded in a very small percentage of cases that go to trial.