Victims in injury cases often want to see defendants pay for the wrongs they committed. It's important to understand that punishment isn't a central feature of anything a personal injury lawyer does, though. Let's look at how the law approaches the issue of punishment in injury cases.
The logic of injury law centers on putting things back or zeroing out the harm that occurred. Yes, the law acknowledges that this is frequently an imperfect solution and that it's rare that an injured person's life goes back to the way it was before an accident. A personal injury attorney helps a client with seeking compensation. It's this financial element that the law intends to even out what happened.
Someone who suffered a compound fracture in their wrist due to a slip-and-fall accident at a store, for example, will likely have several types of medical issues and related expenses. First, there will be costs associated with immediate care, such as a trip to the emergency room. Second, there will be additional treatment costs to stabilize the bones in the wrist and get them to heal. Finally, there may be long-term costs associated with physical therapy, pain management, loss of functionality in the hand, and potential lost earnings.
No Bad Guys
You'll note the law doesn't see a villain in this story. Unless there is compelling evidence that the defendant either intended harm or willfully overlooked egregious risks to others, the law doesn't punish in these sorts of civil proceedings. Even when there is criminal wrongdoing in a case, the law separates that from the civil matter of injury compensation. If a police officer wrongfully shot an innocent person, for example, there would be a criminal case to address punishment. However, the injury case would only cover compensation to correct the harm.
Juries have the right to impose punitive damages under extreme circumstances. Suppose the owner of a bed and breakfast installed a balcony that violated local building standards. They did the work on their own to save money, and they didn't have a professional inspect it. Further, suppose the balcony collapsed and injured someone. Even worse, the business operator refused to settle the case and forced the issue to trial. After finding the owner liable, a jury could impose punitive damages. These would be damages imposed to punish the defendant for the egregious conduct involved in brazenly ignoring local building codes.