Damages: Compensatory vs Punitive

What are damages?

The remedy for any plaintiff who suffers losses, as the result of a defendant’s negligence, is an award of damages. Damages can be compensatory in nature, but they may be punitive as well.

Compensatory Damages

Today, the vast majority of damages awarded to plaintiffs, or personal injury victims, as the result of a defendants’ negligence, are compensatory in nature. In other words, the damages awarded by the courts, to a plaintiff, are a monetary remedy which is designed to restore the plaintiff to the position he or she would have been in, if the negligent conduct had not taken place. In practical terms, the courts conduct an individualistic analysis of each plaintiff in order to compare the life of the individual before the incident, with life after the incident has taken place. The courts will attempt to determine the manner in which the injuries, suffered by a plaintiff, have impacted that person’s life.

Punitive Damages

On the other hand, punitive damages are separate, and distinct, from compensatory damages. While compensatory damages are designed to compensate the plaintiff for the losses which were incurred, punitive damages are a monetary remedy, in addition to compensatory damages, which are designed to punish the tortfeasor for malicious, vicious, high handed, or outrageous conduct. The defendants conduct must be labelled so harsh that it attracts severe reprimand, or punishment, by the courts.

Keeping in mind the purpose which drives each of the aforementioned types of damages, we can think of punitive damages as a civil fine which is payable to the plaintiff, or victim. Although one might think that an award for punitive damages would apply to numerous circumstances which form the basis for civil litigation, in reality, punitive damages are very, very rare. With respect to cases grounded in negligence in particular, courts have seldom found that the conduct of defendants has risen to a level which warrants punitive damages. Typically, when compared with negligent behavior, the courts have been more willing to award punitive damages when an intentional tort has been committed.

In short, damages can be quite complex. The analysis above provides a very brief overview of the topic, however, there are numerous factors which influence the decisions of the courts.

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence, and you are unsure what you can claim for, the legal team at Wagners can help you. You can reach us at 902-425-7330 or 1-800-465-8794.

Drew Hampden
Date: October 31, 2017

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