At the outset of a litigation, a claimant cannot assert a claim for punitive damages. After filing the lawsuit with the appropriate court, a claimant must bring a motion and request authorization to amend the Complaint to include a claim for punitive damages. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 549.191, that motion must “allege the applicable legal basis under Minn. Stat. 549.20 or other law for awarding punitive damages in the action and must be accompanied by one or more affidavits showing the factual basis for the claim.”
The generalized standard of allowing a claim for punitive damages is set forth in Minn. Stat. 549.20. This standard allows a litigant to make a claim for punitive damages against another party if that party acted in accordance with the following standard:
(a) Punitive damages shall be allowed in civil actions only upon clear and convincing evidence that the acts of the defendant show deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others.
(b) A defendant has acted with deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others if the defendant has knowledge of facts or intentionally disregards facts that create a high probability of injury to the rights or safety of others and:
(1) deliberately proceeds to act in conscious or intentional disregard of the high degree of probability of injury to the rights or safety of others; or
(2) deliberately proceeds to act with indifference to the high probability of injury to the rights or safety of others.
This statute can be applied generally to situations that result in personal injury. Typical negligence, such as causing a standard car accident, typically does not arise to this heightened standard. Claims for punitive damages are typically reserved for lawsuits that involve rather egregious factual scenarios. This standard is often utilized in cases that involve sexual abuse, reckless endangerment, drunken driving accidents, and otherwise.