A personal injury claim may require the defendant in your case to pay you compensatory and punitive damages. Understanding the difference between these awards will help you know what your case might be worth and what kind of justice you can pursue.
What Are Compensatory Damages?
Plaintiffs in personal injury cases may receive damages to compensate or reimburse them for financial losses associated with:
- Medical malpractice
- Slip and fall accidents
- Auto accidents
- Wrongful death
There are two categories of compensatory damages. Special damages reimburse plaintiffs for medical expenses associated with an injury, lost wages, and transportation and other services during recovery. Receipts, pay statements, bills, and other paperwork are necessary to support special damages claims.
General damages awards are not specific and cover emotional distress, physical impairment, disfigurement, pain and suffering, and other non-monetary losses. These damages are more difficult to calculate, and they are usually dependent upon the scope of an injury, a jury’s subjectivity or an attorney’s skill. Plaintiff’s attorneys may also rely upon the testimony of medical professionals and close friends or family members to support claims for general damages.
What Are Punitive Damages?
Although a plaintiff may receive punitive damages for a personal injury, these damages are not compensatory. The court does not require a defendant to pay punitive or exemplary damages unless they are to punish intentional, grossly negligent, or egregious behavior leading to the plaintiff’s injury. These damages serve to deter similar conduct in others by creating a public example, and the plaintiff and the state may sometimes share them.
Various factors may affect the value of punitive damages a plaintiff might receive. These include the jury’s subjectivity and a judge’s determination of what is fair. The state where the parties reside also determines the award amount. Although federal law states that punitive damages cannot exceed 10 times the amount of the initial award, some states use other criteria to access the punitive damages defendants must pay. As the lawyers at Cohen & Cohen explain, in some states, punitive damages are not awarded unless the plaintiff is entitled to other awards. Other states award damages proportional to the defendant’s financial status, as a lesser multiplier of the initial award or a percentage of the initial damages awarded.
A personal injury can leave you with mounting medical bills and without the resources to pay them when you cannot work. Contact a personal injury attorney to help you understand the damages you deserve to help rebuild your life.