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In civil court, damages are the awarded sum of money the plaintiff or plaintiffs receive either through a settlement or a decision reached at trial. This award functions as compensation for the total losses, both economic and non-economic, that the plaintiff experienced, whether that be from personal injury, a faulty drug or device, or another accident or injury. A positive outcome for the plaintiff would be a higher amount of damages awarded. If you are involved in a litigation, you probably know that there are a few different types of damages. You are probably asking yourself, “what are compensatory damages and punitive damages?” These are the two main types of damages, each acts to compensate the plaintiff while, in some way, penalizing the person liable for the plaintiff’s losses.
Compensatory damages and punitive damages are the two types of personal injury damages that a plaintiff will demand in civil litigation. In some personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff will only demand compensatory damages. In other lawsuits, the plaintiff will demand only punitive damages (although this is much more unlikely). While, in other cases, the plaintiff may demand both compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Punitive damages, also called exemplary damages, often occur when a company has been negligent, and people are harmed as a result of that negligence. They are designed as a monetary way to penalize the defendant for their actions. Often, punitive damages are used to make an example by punishing the defendant. By charging the defendant large amounts of money, the courts are setting an example for other companies and discouraging the repeated behavior.
Once punitive damages are awarded, the defendant must pay the plaintiff the designated amount.
Compensatory damages, or “actual damages,” are designed to compensate the plaintiff for the damages they have incurred. Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for their loss.
The two types of compensatory damages include:
Special damages, referred to as actual damages are those damages that are easy to calculate. They include medical bills, lost wages, property damages, and any other out of pocket costs for the litigation. If there is a receipt, the expense is likely to qualify as special damage. Special damages are often not up for debate as counsel can easily prove how much the injury cost the plaintiff.
General damages are harder to quantify as they include subjective material. When a personal injury occurs, there is the obvious injury but then there are the damages that are not immediately visible: the healing, the emotional distress, the lasting trauma. Individuals often have incredibly different reactions to similar scenarios, therefore making it hard to put a cost on general damages.
However, a general rule of thumb is the more serious the injury, the higher the general damages. If someone is out of work and has multiple surgeries as a result of a serious car accident, they are likely to have higher general damages than someone who was in a fender bender.
How much money you sue for pain and suffering relies heavily on a number of factors including damages caps, the severity of pain and suffering, and total out-of-pocket damages. Generally, a personal injury attorney will seek compensation for pain and suffering that amounts to about 2-5 times the total cost of medical bills and loss of work. This number varies significantly based on the specifics of each case.
Be honest. Don’t overplay your pain and suffering or dramatize it, but don’t underplay it either. Tell your own truth. Pain and suffering are subjective and hard to measure, so the judge and jury rely on you as the plaintiff to tell them exactly what level of pain and suffering you have endured. It helps if you keep notes that document your pain and suffering over time – detail exactly what physical pain and emotional distress you deal with as a result of your personal injury. In the event that you have to present evidence in front of the court, use these notes and personal testimony to exemplify your pain and suffering so that it is easier to believe, relate to and understand.
Pain and Suffering – The permanent, physical distress caused by the injury including but not limited to: scarring, chronic pain, and limitations of activity.
Emotional Distress – Anxiety, depression, and other emotional struggles occurring as a result of the injury
Defamation – The intentional spreading of false information to harm a person or entity. Also known as loss of reputation.
Disfigurement – A permanent change in appearance as a result of an injury such as scarring or amputation.
Loss of Consortium – The inability for relationships with family and spouses to continue as they had prior to the injury, also known as loss of companionship.
Loss of Physical or Mental Capacity – The inability to care for oneself as they could prior to the injury.
Loss of Enjoyment if Life – The inability to participate in and enjoy activities as they had prior to the injury as a result of the injury.
The two most common methods of calculating a plaintiff’s general damages are the multiplier method and the per diem method. The multiplier method calculates the general damages by multiplying the sum total of the plaintiffs by a set number dependent on the severity of the plaintiff’s injury. The per diem method attaches a monetary value to every day the plaintiff has suffered because of the accident and adds the total of those days together. On occasion, the courts may use a combination of the multiplier method and the per diem method.
Disclaimer: As each case is unique, the monetary amount of compensatory and punitive damages may vary greatly between the two personal injury cases. The types of damages sought after are often negotiated by the attorneys on both sides and can vary greatly between cases. If you have any questions regarding your case, please contact us.
Learn More About the Lawsuit Process:
"What Is PUNITIVE DAMAGES? Definition of PUNITIVE DAMAGES (Black's Law Dictionary)." The Law Dictionary, 25 Feb. 2014, thelawdictionary.org/punitive-damages/
Hayes, Christi. "The Two Different Types of Compensatory Damages." The Law Dictionary, thelawdictionary.org/article/two-different-types-compensatory-damages/
Hayes, Christi. "Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages: What's the Difference?" The Law Dictionary, thelawdictionary.org/article/compensatory-vs-punitive-damages-whats-difference/
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