Punitive damages are extraordinary damages intended to punish a defendant for wrongful conduct and to deter defendant and others from engaging in like conduct. To award punitive damages, Missouri law requires a jury to find that defendant's conduct was outrageous because of defendants ill motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others. Inaction or failure to act is outrageous when coupled with either a reckless indifference to the rights of others or evil motives. Evil motive and reckless indifference exist when a defendant acts or fails to act in the presence of a high probability of injury.
Punitive damages may be awarded under the circumstances when the conduct involves a high probability of physical injury to a person or class of persons. Punitive damages may also be awarded in a commercial case where the intentional tortious conduct of one party to a business transaction is for the purpose of financial gain at the expense of another. This is precisely the sort of motivation that an award of punitive damages is designed to discourage. Purposeful concealment of material information for one's own pecuniary gain to the detriment of another is sufficient to infer "evil motive" or "reckless indifference" to the rights of others. Even if the actor did not intend the specific harm that resulted from the conduct, reckless indifference occurs if the actor realized or, from the facts which were known, should have realized that there was a strong probability that harm may result, even though the actor hoped or even expected that his conduct would prove harmless.
Because punitive damages are considered extraordinary damages, the law requires a claim for punitive damages to be proven by clear and convincing evidence. There are also both state statutory limits and federal constitutional limits on the amount of punitive damages that are collectible against a defendant depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.