When can Personal Injury Cases Result in Punitive Damages in Alaska and How are They Calculated?

Many members of the public have a misperception about punitive damages when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. There are many reasons for this, including inaccurate portrayals on television and in movies and even the incorrect understanding of the infamous McDonalds’ hot coffee case. Regardless, punitive damages are an important avenue of recovery for certain personal injury victims in specific and circumscribed circumstances.


What are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are those that are considered additional damages that are added to a recovery and not actual damages suffered by a victim. The very name suggests that they are added as punishment for the defendant’s conduct. As a policy note, they are put in place to either deter the specific defendant from engaging in the conduct again or to dissuade similarly situated people or organizations from committing the same conduct in the future. While the public’s general idea of punitive damages may be inflated, punitive damages are the exception rather than the rule.


When do Punitive Damages Apply in Alaska?

Alaska law provides for very specific circumstances where punitive damages may be awarded.  The law provides that a victim may request punitive damages in the following circumstances:

  • The defendant’s behavior was outrageous, including acts done with malice or bad motives or
  • Evidenced reckless indifference to the interest of another person.

These are both actually fairly high standards to achieve in personal injury cases. For example, having five or six drinks and driving 15 miles an hour over the speed limit and then injuring someone probably does not legally rise to the level necessary for an award of punitive damages even though many of us would say that this certainly rises to the level of reckless indifference to the interest of the victim.


How are Damages Calculated?

If punitive damages are allowed in a case, a separate proceeding is required to determine those damages. Factors that the finder of fact (a judge or jury, depending on the type of trial) may use to assess punitive damages are specified by Alaska law, and include:

  • The likelihood at the time of the conduct that serious harm would arise from the defendant’s conduct
  • The defendant’s awareness of the likelihood of the harm
  • The amount of financial gain the defendant gained or expected to gain as a result of the conduct
  • The duration of the conduct and any intentional concealment of the conduct
  • The attitude and conduct of the defendant of the defendant upon discovery of the conduct
  • The financial condition of the defendant and
  • The total deterrence of other damages and punishment imposed on the defendant as a result of the conduct, including compensatory and punitive damages awards to persons in situations similar to those of the plaintiff and the severity of the criminal penalties to which the defendant has or may be subjected.


These statutory requirements are in place to deter future conduct. For example, if a wealthy defendant acts in a truly reckless manner, shows no remorse for his or her actions, and the plaintiff is awarded little in the way of compensatory damages, punitive damages may be awarded to prevent the defendant from acting in such a way in the future.


Injuries and subsequent cases regarding injuries sometimes involve behavior so egregious that compensatory damages are determined to not be enough to remedy the situation. The behavior at the time and subsequent behavior are all factors that play into the availability of punitive damages. The circumstances determine the applicability of the law. A skilled and experienced personal injury attorney can make the determination if punitive damages are an avenue of recovery for an injury victim. The attorneys at Power & Power Law in Anchorage have decades of experience protecting victim’s rights. If you have been injured, give us a call at 907-222-9990 or toll free at 833-669-9990 or click here to set up your initial consultation to find out what options are available for you.