Can’t I Get Punitive Damages?

Clients who have been wronged often are insistent on going after the opposing party for “punitive damages”.  Typically, those clients are really just looking for “enhanced damages”, meaning they want to force the opposing party pay more money than the client lost.

True punitive damages are available in North Carolina where the opposing party acted willfully, or with fraud or malice, but there are numerous conditions and limitations.  For example, a simple breach of contract cannot be the basis for punitive damages. A client must prove that they suffered actual financial harm, and the number of punitive damages can be limited based upon the amount of financial harm that was suffered.  North Carolina General Statutes expressly permit recovery of punitive damages in certain circumstances and prohibit it in others.

Besides punitive damages, there are sometimes alternate avenues available for a client to recover enhanced damages.  Clients who have suffered harm because of unfair or deceptive business practices can recover treble (triple) damages, and attorneys’ fees.  Clients who bring an action for unpaid wages can sometimes recover double the amount of wages owed.  Shareholders who are wrongfully denied the right to inspect company records can often force the company to pay for the inspection, a cost that would normally fall on the shareholder.

As a practical matter, the Court is sometimes resistant to awarding enhanced damages.  It is common for the Court to find creative ways to deny or reduce enhanced damage awards.

For more information about enhanced damages and theories of legal recovery, contact Parton Law.