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Punitive Damages in Dog Bite and Auto Accident Cases

Punitive damages go beyond traditional compensation and are damages/monies awarded in court as punishment the at-fault party or to set an example for others. The purpose behind a judge or jury awarding punitive damages is to show that particularly egregious or malicious acts will not be tolerated and to prevent similar acts from occurring in the future. For punitive damages to be awarded in Arizona, the at-fault party must have had an evil mind, meaning malicious intent or extreme carelessness. There is a large stigma attached to punitive damages and the total amount of punitive damages is normally much higher than the regular compensatory damages, thus making punitive damages extremely undesirable for whoever has to pay them. There are no caps on punitive damages, thus the amount of punitive damages will depend largely on the entity’s or payor’s net worth, and how much it will take to discourage the type of conduct at issue by other similarly-situated persons or entities.


In Arizona, punitive damages are appropriate in cases where an at-fault party has acted with what Arizona courts have called an evil mind. In accordance with Ranburger v. Southern Pac. Transp. Co., 157 Ariz. 551 (Ariz. 1988), an at-fault party acts with an evil mind in one of two ways:

  1. The at-fault party’s actions are motivated by ill will, spite, maliciousness, or there was intent to cause harm, or
  2. An evil mind may be inferred when an at-fault party acts recklessly or carelessly, with disregard for the law or with blatant disregard for the safety of others.

A Mesa az car accident case warranting a claim for punitive damages can take many forms. Some examples of the kind of conduct that warrant punitive damages include, but are not limited to, driving under the influence, driving at excessive or criminal speeds, texting while driving, road rage, reckless driving, racing, fleeing the scene of an accident. Ultimately whether punitive damages are warranted will be up to the jury and/or judge.


For Arizona dog bite cases, the standard for punitive damages is the same. The standard requires the defendant to have an evil or malicious mind in the way that he handled or trained his dog. The two definitions of an evil mind in the Ranburger case apply. A dog bite case warranting punitive damages might include, a person keeping a dog knowing that the particular dog is dangerous by nature, a person training a dog for fighting or attack purposes, not keeping a dog on a leash, not keeping a dog properly contained, allowing a dog that has bitten before to be around people, an owner who knows his particular breed of dog is known to be aggressive or dangerous, or a person purposefully commanding a dog to attack. Again, the ultimate determination of whether or not these damages are warranted is up to the jury and the judge.

If you have been injured and believe you are entitled to punitive damages, please call us for a FREE CONSULTATION.


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