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Punitive Damages in New Hampshire: Not Allowed, But There’s An Alternative

Punitive damages refer to a legal recompense (a monetary benefit) that a court awards a victim if it finds that the defendant grossly and intentionally committed the offense. It is meant to punish the defendant, which is why it is never imposed on its own. Instead, the court awards punitive damages on top of compensatory damages. As it is a form of punishment, punitive damages are also called exemplary damages.

If you’re filing a personal injury case in New Hampshire and hoped to ask for punitive damages, you’ll be surprised to know that it has been outlawed since 2015. 

Section 507:16 of the 2015 New Hampshire Revised Statutes on Actions, Process, and Service of Process states that “No punitive damages shall be awarded in any action.” It would require the passing of a new statute to make punitive charges legal again in the state.

New Hampshire is not alone in making punitive damages unavailable. Rhode Island has the same rule, but only on wrongful death actions. For the rest of the states that allow punitive damages, some have applied caps on the amount the plaintiff can ask for, while others take into account the exceptions of their collateral source rule, if there are any.

Why Are Punitive Damages Unavailable?

New Hampshire disagrees with the notion that defendants should receive exemplary damages for the sake of receiving punishment. It chooses to emphasize the scope and severity of the plaintiff’s injury rather than merely punishing the defendant. How? By offering enhanced compensatory damages instead of punitive damages.

What Is the Doctrine of Enhanced Compensatory Damages?

A court in New Hampshire may expand or supplement the damages a plaintiff will receive if the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious. According to state law, courts may only award enhanced compensatory damages if the defendant’s actions had been “wanton, malicious, or oppressive.” 

If you wish to be awarded these damages, you must prove that the defendant acted wantonly or maliciously or that the aggravation you experienced warrants this decision.  

What Cases Get Awarded with Enhanced Compensatory Damages?

This doctrine stresses that ordinary carelessness, or negligence, does not call for enhanced compensatory damages. Unfortunately, it also means that cases that usually get punitive damages awarded to plaintiffs may not have a similar outcome in New Hampshire.
For example, a typical car crash due to drunk driving usually does not merit enhanced compensatory damages, but if the defendant’s driving was particularly egregious, say driving 100 + mph, swerving all over the road, just waiting to cause a horrific crash, that may be enough to prove the reckless indifference that NH classifies as “wanton conduct.”
What will finally convince a court to award these damages is a case by case basis, the worse the defendant’s conduct the more likely to get into the Enhanced Compensatory range, but that is the exception and not the rule. Of course, intentional ill will, hostile, or evil motive certainly moves it up a notch.

Personal Injury Attorneys Can Help

Pursuing enhanced compensatory damages in New Hampshire is challenging, both because of NH Law, as well as that some insurance policies do not cover the defendant’s actions if intentional ill will, hostile, or evil motive is alleged.

To secure just compensation for a personal injury, you’ll need experienced personal injury attorneys. To get enhanced compensatory damages, you need to prove that the defendants’ actions were wanton, malicious, or oppressive.