Compensatory Versus Punitive Damages: What’s the Difference and Which Can I Get After I’m Injured?

When you’re injured in an accident and sue the person whose negligence or wrongdoing caused it, you have the possibility of recovering both compensatory and punitive damages. However, while you almost assuredly will collect compensatory damages, your likelihood of collecting punitive damages as well is fairly low.

Compensatory Damages

As the name implies, compensatory damages are those that compensate you for the losses you sustain because of your injuries. They consist of two types: economic and noneconomic.

Your economic damages include such things as the following:

  • Medical expenses, including ambulance transport, diagnostic tests, hospitalizations, surgeries, doctors’ appointments, etc.
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitation therapy
  • Medical equipment and assistive devices
  • In-home medical and assistive care
  • Projected future medical costs
  • Lost income from having to take time off from work because of your injuries
  • Projected future loss of income due to any disability caused by your injuries

Your noneconomic damages consist of your losses to which it’s more difficult to assign a precise dollar value. For instance, all of the following represent your noneconomic damages:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental and emotional anguish
  • Depression
  • Disfiguring scarring
  • Amputation of a limb
  • Paralysis
  • Blindness
  • Severe hearing impairment
  • Loss of enjoyment of your life

The amount of compensatory damages you can recover depends on a variety of factors, including the nature and severity of your injuries and the extent to which they limit your life in the future. If you live in a comparative or contributory negligence state, you also face reduction of your compensatory damages if the jury determines that your own negligence was partially responsible for the accident that caused your injuries.

Punitive Damages

The purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate you for your losses, but rather to punish the defendant if the jury decides that his or her actions in causing the accident, and therefore your injuries, were particularly egregious. Courts seldom award punitive damages, but when they do, this amount could be considerably more than your compensatory damages and are assessed on top of them.

Unfortunately, some states ban punitive damages outright for certain kinds of personal injury cases. Other states severely curtain their amounts.

Need for Legal Assistance

If you sustain serious injuries in an accident, your best strategy consists of obtaining the advice, counsel and representation of an experienced local personal injury attorney. Why? Because personal injury cases can become quite complicated very quickly. They can also take a long time to settle or go to trial.

Remember, the defendant’s insurance company undoubtedly will retain attorneys whose job it is to keep the amount of your compensation as low as possible. You need your own lawyer, like a personal injury lawyer from Saavedra Law Firm, PLC, to combat them and get you the maximum amount of compensation possible.