Your Guide to Understanding the Difference Between Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages

Damages. They are awarded to a plaintiff when a defendant has done legitimate wrong to the other party. 

Luckily, more and more people are getting justice for these wrongs. Personal injury case filings increased by 97% from one year to the next. 

If a company or person responsible for your injuries pays you compensation, there is one more question that remains. Should your settlement be compensatory damages or punitive damages?

Keep reading to learn more about the different types of damages and when each type of settlement applies.

What Are Compensatory Damages? 

Simply put, compensatory damages are the money awarded to a plaintiff when it is proven how much financial loss occurred because of the actions of a defendant. 

Then, the defendant will have to pay out the plaintiff and possibly the attorney fees as well. 

Let’s say, for example, that the defendant was the owner of land that had contaminated water. This water in this situation resulted in the plaintiff getting diagnosed with breast cancer. In this example, there is undeniable proof that the contaminated water has a connection to this. 

With this case, the defendant would be responsible for all of the medical bills that the plaintiff has incurred because of this. That includes medicine, hospital visits, doctor’s visit, consultations, possible raise in health insurance, and more. 

Another type of compensation that the defendant may have to pay out here is if the plaintiff lost potential income because of this. 

Let’s say, for example, that this woman had a physical job in a factor. She took home about $750 per week. That would be about $3,000 per month or about $36,000 per year. 

However, when she got diagnosed with breast cancer, she was not healthy enough to work and had to quit her job. Then, she went two years without that income. 

In this situation, the defendant would likely have to pay the plaintiff $72,000 in compensatory damages for that lost income. Plus, they may have to pay additional money on top of that for the lost time to save that money or cover any loan payments that had to be made because of this. 

General Compensatory Damages 

In the above section, we discussed what happens when there is proof of loss of income for a plaintiff. Those situations are in the actual compensatory damages category. 

There are two types of compensatory damages. That was the first one, and the second one is called general compensatory damages. 

This type of damage is more complicated to put a dollar amount on because there is less proof of this. It is a more complex case because, most of the time, it deals with mental stability, hypotheticals, or just plain inconvenience. 

Examples of situations where this type of damage may come to the surface include inconvenience, disfigurement, possible wages that you will lose out on in the future, future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more.

These are also damages where it is good to have an injury attorney to help make your argument for these damages. They can help you cover any unexpected costs in the future, plus possibly provide more justice for the damage that was done to you. 

Punitive Damages 

Now that you understand what compensatory damages are and what types are out there, it is time to explain punitive damages. 

The main difference between this type of damages and the types of compensatory damages is that punitive damages are more toward the punishment of the defendant. In contrast to this, compensatory damages merely are payments made to the victim of an incident. 

Punitive damages are enforced when a court deems that there needs to be legal and criminal consequences for the defendant. Sometimes, it is to make an example of egregious behavior and to discourage people from doing similar actions in the future. 

An example of this can be medical malpractice. That action can be so egregious, like ignoring basic health standards in the health industry, that the court may deem that jail time is necessary for the doctor or business owners that violated this code of conduct. 

Another example of this can be a drunk driver that may have caused permanent physical or mental damage to a victim. Or, they may have accidentally killed somebody while they were driving drunk. 

A courtroom would typically rule in this situation that compensatory damages are not enough and that the behavior of driving drunk needs to be discouraged. If someone did kill somebody while driving drunk, they could be looking at years in jail. This is especially the case for a repeat DUI offender. 

Do You Need an Accident Attorney? 

The answer is yes. An accident attorney is typically a legal professional that has been in the personal injury case business for years. 

They can give you the proper legal counsel on what to go after with a defendant, how much you are owed, what the defendant is responsible for, and tell you how much of a chance you have to win a lawsuit. 

Hire a Lawyer to Get Compensatory Damages

This is a brief guide on the main differences between compensatory damages and punitive damages. Here, you would be entitled to financial compensation if you were to get compensatory damages. Meanwhile, the courts would be looking to punish the defendant for egregious actions with punitive damages. 

Are you someone that believes they have a case that can result in compensatory damages? Call us at one of our locations today to get a free consultation.