Punitive Damages in Oregon

Punitive damages are as they sound—to punish a defendant for malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton, or grossly negligent misconduct. Gross negligence specifically highlights reckless conduct that constitutes a conscious disregard or indifference to the safety, rights, or life of others. Very large sums of money have been awarded around the U.S. as punitive damages, although they rarely occur in injury cases.

The Purpose of Punitive Damages

The entire purpose of punitive damages is to publicly punish the wrongdoer party and to deter future misconduct by the wrongdoer or other potential wrongdoers. This is best illustrated by products liability cases such as Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Company. In this case, the plaintiff suffered burn injuries after his vehicle caught fire upon being struck from behind. Evidence was uncovered during the trial that proved Ford knew about the potential for such fires and failed in making design changes. The appellate court held that the evidence supported a finding of malice, justifying punitive damages.
In these types of cases, the court looks at the following factors to decide whether to award punitive damages, and if so, how much:

  • How likely it was that serious harm would occur as a result of the misconduct
  • How aware the defendant was of the likelihood of harm
  • How profitable the misconduct was
  • How long the misconduct lasted and whether it was concealed
  • How the defendant acted upon discovering the misconduct
  • The defendant’s financial condition

The courts also look at punitive damages awards previously issued for similar claims, and consider what kind of criminal penalties the defendant is subject to under statute ORS 30.925. It is worth reiterating that the assumption of risk in skiing is only a defense for ski area operators. Manufacturers, distributors, and vendors of ski equipment are liable for defective products and aren’t nearly as protected under the law.

Are You Entitled to Punitive Damages For Your Ski Injury?

Don’t know? Call (503) 245-5677 to talk to Richard Rizk, an experienced Portland injury attorney for a free consultation.

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