Compensatory and punitive damages are the two main classes of recoverable damages sought in personal injury lawsuits. Knowing the difference is important when seeking remedy for injury. Negligence and causation must be proved before any damage compensation can be recovered.
Injuries and losses resulting from an accident fall into this category. Compensatory damage claims are filed to restore the injured party to his or her financial situation prior to the accident. There are two types of compensatory damages: those that are economic in nature and those not related to monetary issues.
Economic damages are easy to calculate and fairly clear-cut, and can include the following:
- Legal fees
- Income loss (past, present and future)
- Property damage
- Medical treatment, including doctors, pharmaceuticals and other expenses (current and future)
- Legal fees
Non-economic damages are referred to as hedonic compensatory damages. They are intangible injuries that the plaintiff has suffered. Because there are no invoices or receipts, calculating this kind of damage is more difficult. Some states have caps put on monetary awards for hedonic damages.
Damages falling into the sub-category include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment, and disfigurement and physical impairment. Physical suffering and serious discomfort that occurred during an accident or in the aftermath of it are taken into consideration. Any future or ongoing pain attributed to an accident is included. Psychological trauma such as loss of sleep, fear, or anxiety is considered emotional stress. Day-to-day hobbies and activities that can no longer be enjoyed because of an accident can be claimed. Conditions such as brain damage, paralysis, and visible scars are worthy of claiming. Compensation is based on the nature, the extent, and how long the injury lasts.
With no formula for non-economic loss calculation, enlisting the help of a lawyer is important. Lifestyle, preexisting conditions, and the type of work an individual does all play a role in determining compensation. A lawyer familiar with cases like this benefits the plaintiff.
Punitive damages are awarded to punish wrongful behavior. The intention is not to compensate for a loss. They are reserved for parties who display behavior that is reckless or hazardous. Willful or malicious regard for the rights, health, or safety of others must be demonstrated. Punitive damages are used sparingly. The automobile industry and some financial institutions have been subjected to punitive damage claims.
The intention behind punitive damages is to punish flagrant offenders and act as a deterrent from engaging in future conduct of that wrongdoing. Punitive damages are controversial. Theoretically, they are reserved for the worst kind of misconduct.
Punitive damages rarely get paid. Appellate courts cut down or dismiss most punitive damage claims. The threat of punitive damage can cause a defense settlement to be increased. The unpredictable methods of determining punitive damages put fear into defendants being hit by them.
A jury decides the total amount of damages. A judge can order punitive damage to be reduced or increased if he or she believes the awarded amount is excessive or inadequate. A new trial or appeal is not necessary.
If you’ve been involved in an accident due to another party’s negligence, it’s important you speak with a personal injury attorney to understand the different forms of damages and how to best pursue compensation for your claim.