What Are the Differences Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages?

Individuals who have suffered injuries from accidents or incurred medical expenses can seek relief through civil court. When the plaintiff (victim) is successful in their case, they may be awarded a monetary sum to cover losses, such as property damage and pain and suffering. There are two types of damages that may be awarded: compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are intended to compensate for actual losses, while punitive damages aim to punish the defendant. It’s important to work with an experienced attorney to navigate the legal system and ensure a fair outcome.

Compensatory Damages vs Punitive Damages - Man in Wheelchair

At Roden Law, our attorneys specialize in advocating for clients’ rights and holding at-fault parties accountable. We understand the challenges injury victims and their families face and offer a free consultation. Our attorneys work on contingency, so you pay nothing unless we recover funds for you.

What are Compensatory Damages in a Personal Injury Claim?

Compensatory damages are awarded to plaintiffs to reimburse them for actual losses they have suffered due to the negligence of another person or entity. These damages can cover medical expenses, future expenses resulting from the injury, or property damage. There are two types of compensatory damages a court can award a plaintiff:

Special damages:

These damages are easy to calculate as they are based on actual expenses incurred by the victim. They include medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and litigation costs. These losses can be proven with physical evidence.

General damages:

These awards are harder to quantify as they cover subjective losses such as emotional distress, pain and suffering, PTSD, disfigurement, shortened life expectancy, and long-term medical care. They can also include “loss of consortium” when someone struggles to form relationships after an injury, and even defamation. 

Personal injury settlements often involve both special and general damages.

What are Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Claim?

Punitive damages, also known as actual damages, vindictive damages, or exemplary damages, are awarded in legal cases to punish defendants for their negligence or wrongdoing. This type of damage is typically applied in cases involving companies or large entities that have acted negligently, such as in cases of medical malpractice or product liability.

For example, if a company knowingly sells a defective product that can cause harm to consumers, they may be ordered to pay punitive damages if it can be proven that they were negligent in their decision-making. Similarly, individuals can be ordered to pay punitive damages if their negligent behavior causes harm to others, such as in cases of drunk or distracted driving.

Punitive damages are not designed to compensate the plaintiff, but to deter others from engaging in similar wrongful behavior. While the plaintiff will receive the monetary award, the primary purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant. If punitive damages are ordered by a court, the defendant must pay the designated amount to the plaintiff as a form of punishment for their actions.

Differences Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages

The primary difference between compensatory and punitive damages is their intended effects on the two opposing sides of a personal injury claim. Compensatory damages are intended to help the injured victim, while punitive damages are meant to penalize the at-fault party. Additionally, compensatory damages are much more common than punitive damages. 

Some Examples of When These Damages Could Be Awarded

Compensatory damages can be awarded in a wide range of personal injury claims caused by the negligence of another party or entity. Some common accidents include:

  • Car crashes
  • Truck accidents
  • Motorcycle crashes
  • Bicycle collisions
  • Boating accidents
  • Slip and fall injuries
  • Construction accidents
  • Workplace injuries

Some of the most common compensatory damages awarded in a personal injury claim are:

  • Medical expenses (past, present, and future costs)
  • Lost wages from missing work
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental trauma
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of companionship

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are usually awarded in cases where the guilty party knowingly acted without regard to the safety and well-being of others. Such cases might include:

  • Cases that the at-fault party appeared to cause intentional harm to the victim
  • Lawsuits where the plaintiff was seriously injured
  • Medical malpractice claims where negligence caused severe injury or death
  • Class action lawsuits where several people were hurt
  • Cases that are deemed to have been motivated by evil intentions, where the guilty party took part in malicious activity that is viewed as unacceptable social behavior.

Roden Law Firm – Your Personal Injury Attorneys

If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident caused by another party’s negligence, contacting a qualified personal injury attorney is recommended. At Roden Law, we offer a free consultation, and you will not be charged any fees unless we win compensation for you.  Learn more about our services or contact us today!