Are Punitive Damages Available to the Unfortunate United Airlines Passenger?
Earlier today an extremely disturbing video of an Asian man being brutally dragged from a United Airlines ("UA") flight went viral. The racial undertones (perhaps not so subtle) surrounding the incident raise serious questions about UA's treatment of its passengers, and to what extent race played a role in the savage treatment of this passenger.
Typically in a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff (the party initiating the lawsuit) can recover money damages for injuries suffered. This can be broken down into a few different categories. First, special damages are intended to compensate for monetary expenses incurred because of an injury. Special damages can include: recovery for lost earnings, medical bills, costs of future medical care, household expenses, etc.
The second category of damages, general damages, are meant to compensate injury victims for harm that is generally sustained in an injury. Common types of general damages are: pain and suffering; mental anguish; or loss of consortium (generally a loss of household companionship).
The third category of money damages is punitive damages. Punitive damages may be awarded where the defendant's conduct (the person or entity being sued) is particularly despicable or reprehensible. That may very well apply in the case of the unfortunate United Airlines passenger. From the video, it certainly appears that he would have a legitimate claim for civil battery against United Airlines, the Chicago Department of Aviation (who employed the officers), and the individual officers.
Particularly where it appears that the actions of the officers may have been racially motivated, that may provide a strong incentive for a jury (or judge if a bench trial) to award punitive damages against the defendants. The dollar amount of punitive damages available can vary widely depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, but as a general matter an award of punitive damages must be somewhat proportional to the other compensatory damages awarded.
By way of example, a plaintiff in a recent case against the City of New York was awarded $1.5 Million in punitive damages by a jury who found that police officers involved in the arrest of the plaintiff were motivated by malice. This was in addition to the $2.5 Million for damages to the Plaintiff's hand. However, the punitive damage award was cut down to $150,000 by an appellate court. This demonstrates the wide variability of punitive damage awards.
This article is intended to provide a very broad overview of the types of monetary awards available in civil litigation. It is not intended as legal advice.
For additional information, contact:
Joshua J. Horowitz, Esq.
50 Broadway, 27h Floor
New York, New York 10004