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North Carolina Punitive Damages Law

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You may have heard the phrase “punitive damages”, but you may not know what it means and when it applies. In North Carolina, the majority of punitive damages law is found in Chapter 1D of our General Statutes. 

In order to qualify for punitive damages, victims must first prove eligibility for compensatory damages and that one or more of the following factors apply: (1) fraud, (2) malice, or (3) willful or wanton conduct. These are high standards to meet. Fraud requires intent to deceive, while malice implies a “sense of personal ill will” that causes someone to act unlawfully.

Willful or wanton conduct means “the conscious and intentional disregard of and indifference to the rights and safety of others, which the defendant knows or should know is reasonably likely to result in injury, damages, or other harm”. The most common example of willful or wanton conduct is operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. We’ve settled many punitive damages cases involving drivers under the influence, even when medical bills for the victim were small.

You should be aware that there is a cap on punitive damage recoveries. N.C.G.S. § 1D-25(b) provides that punitive damages “shall not exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages or two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00), whichever is greater.” However, the only situation where this cap does not apply is in situations where the defendant caused an automobile accident because he was driving while impaired.

In many business disputes, the plaintiff will sue for fraud and Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices. In that situation, he or she will have to choose between recovering either punitive or treble damages. However, victims are not eligible for both.

Representation for Punitive Damages

Maginnis Law regularly represents individuals and businesses in disputes involving punitive damages. Sample cases involve drunk driving automobile accidents and contract disputes involving intentional misrepresentation (i.e. fraud). We offer free consultations to all prospective clients from our Raleigh office, and accept many cases on a contingency basis.

To speak with an experienced civil litigation attorney, contact Maginnis Law at 919.526.0450, email us at or visit our contact page to submit details regarding your case. Our firm regularly represents clients in and around the Triangle, including: Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Garner, Chapel Hill, and Clayton.