Personal Injury Lawsuits, The Difference Between Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages

In personal injury lawsuits in which a judgment is made against the defendant, compensatory damages are the standard type of damages awarded. If the actions of the defendant were willful, aggressive or exceptionally negligent, then punitive damages might also be awarded to the plaintiff.

In this Litigation Guide article we take a look at the differences between punitive and compensatory damages.

Compensatory Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits

These damages “compensate” the plaintiff for their loss. For example, if a personal injury costs a person $100,000 in medical expenses, lost wages from missed work and other expenses, the compensatory damages would amount to at least $100,000 to cover the loss.

Compensatory damages are often higher than the specific dollar amount of the losses. This is to take into consideration ongoing medical expenses as well. It often also provides financial compensation for pain and suffering experienced by the plaintiff as a result of the injury or loss. A good personal injury attorney will always fight for a higher dollar amount than just what the specific financial losses add up to.

Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits

If the behavior of the plaintiff was grossly negligent, aggressive, willful or possibly criminal, then punitive damages might also be awarded. Most personal injury lawyers will argue that this is a clear case of medical malpractice and argue them for you. While compensatory damages compensate for a loss to the plaintiff, punitive damages are designed to punish the victim.

Punitive damages are often many times higher than compensatory damages. In addition to punishing the negligent behavior of the defendant, they might also be used to make an example of them or to possibly deter that kind of behavior in others.

The amount of punitive damages differs greatly, but they are typically 3-5 times greater than the compensatory damages that were awarded. If the compensatory damages are $200,000 for example, the punitive damages could be as high as $1 million. An aggressive personal injury attorney will fight hard for stiff punitive damages whenever the behavior of the defendant shows gross negligence, willful intent or criminal neglect.

Discussing Damages with Personal Injury Attorneys

As you’re interviewing potential personal injury lawyers to represent you, discuss the amount of compensatory damages you need to cover your actual losses plus future losses plus pain and suffering. Also mention that you’d like to fight for punitive damages too. The injury attorney will evaluate your case and let you know whether it is likely or not that punitive damages can be won. This will help you decide which personal injury lawyer you believe will fight the hardest for you in front of a jury and judge.