What Conduct Can Lead to Punitive Damages in California?

California Code 3294 provides for punitive damages in cases that don’t involve a breach of contract. A plaintiff can seek punitive damages where there is clear solid evidence that the defendant, such as an employer is guilty of “oppression, fraud, or malice.” Punitive damages are meant to set an example and are also meant to punish the wrongdoer.

“Malice” means conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.

“Oppression” means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.

“Fraud” means an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.

Liability of employers for acts of their employees

Employers are not liable for punitive damages for acts of their employee:

  • unless the employer had advance knowledge of the unfitness of the employee and employed him or her with a conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others
  • “or authorized or ratified the wrongful conduct for which the damages are awarded
  • “or was personally guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice.”

When the defendant is a corporate employer, then the employer can be held liable:

  • If the advance knowledge requirement is met
  • If the misconduct was an act of oppression, fraud, or malice


  • The employee is an officer, director, or managing agent of the corporation.

At the California Law Offices of Stephen Danz and Associates, we seek compensatory damages for your economic losses. When the law allows, we seek compensation for your emotional pain and suffering. We seek statutory damages in many employee rights case. When defendants need to be sent a message that their conduct won’t be tolerated, we seek punitive damages. For help obtaining strong and just recoveries, phone us at 877-789-9707 or fill out our online contact form to schedule an appointment.