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What Are the Differences Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases?

You can be awarded two main types of damages in a personal injury case: compensatory and punitive. Personal injury cases can result in economic and non-economic damage. These damages compensate the injured party for their losses, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain, and suffering.

Understanding the differences between these two types of damages is vital for anyone involved in a personal injury case in California. Our personal injury attorneys are here to clarify these differences, explain how they’re calculated, and more.

Understanding Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages reimburse the plaintiff for their losses. They intend to make the plaintiff whole again and put them back in the same position they were in before the injury occurred, as much as possible. There are two types of compensatory damages: economic and non-economic.

  • Economic damages are losses that can be easily calculated, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. These damages reimburse the plaintiff for out-of-pocket expenses they incurred due to their injury.
  • Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are losses that are more difficult to quantify. These can include psychological damages such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. Non-economic damages compensate the plaintiff for intangible losses they suffered due to their injury.

It’s important to note that damages don’t just refer to present loss only; the future must also be considered.

In California, there is no limit on the dollar value of compensatory recompense that can be awarded in a personal injury case. Various factors determine the compensatory damages awarded, including the severity of the injury, the plaintiff’s age, and the impact the injury has had on the plaintiff’s life.

Understanding Punitive Damages

Punitive damages punish the offender for their actions and deter others from engaging in similar behavior. These damages are typically awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious or reckless. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages do not compensate the plaintiff for their losses.

In California, punitive damages can only be awarded if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud. Malice refers to a defendant’s intent to harm the plaintiff.

In contrast, oppression refers to conduct that is particularly despicable and shows a conscious disregard for the plaintiff’s safety. Fraud refers to intentional misrepresentation or concealment of facts.

The value of punitive damages and compensation awarded in California has no maximum.

Key Differences Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages

The primary difference between compensatory and punitive damages is their purpose. Compensatory damages compensate the plaintiff for their losses, while punitive damages punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in similar behavior.

Compensatory damages aim to make the plaintiff whole again, while punitive damages make an example of the defendant.

Another difference between the two types of damage is the harm they address. Compensatory damages compensate the plaintiff for all the harm they suffered due to their injury, including economic and non-economic losses.

On the other hand, Punitive damages address the harm caused by the defendant’s conduct, not the injury suffered by the plaintiff.

How Damages Are Factored and Calculated

The factors considered in awarding compensatory and punitive damages are also different. The compensatory damages awarded are based on the plaintiff’s actual losses, while the defendant’s conduct determines the dollar value of punitive damages awarded.

To be awarded punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted with malice, oppression or fraudulently.

Finally, compensatory and punitive damages are calculated differently. Compensatory damages are based on the actual losses suffered by the plaintiff and are calculated by adding up all the plaintiff’s economic and non-economic losses.

On the other hand, punitive damages are calculated based on the defendant’s conduct, and the damages awarded punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in similar behavior.

Situations Where Both Compensatory and Punitive Damages May Be Awarded

In some cases, you can be awarded compensatory and punitive damages when the defendant’s conduct was particularly destructive.

For example, compensatory and punitive damages may be awarded if a defendant drives under the influence and causes a severe accident: The court will aim to compensate the plaintiff while punishing the defendant for electing to drive under the influence.

Punitive damages are also widespread in rape and sexual assault cases: Courts may stand especially firm in issuing punitive damages to victims of sexual assault-related crimes.

Get the Compensatory and Punitive Damages You Deserve With Experienced Help From HHJ Trial Attorneys

Understanding the differences between compensatory and punitive damages is essential for anyone involved in a personal injury case in California.

If you have been injured in an accident, consult an experienced personal injury attorney to understand the damages available in your case.

At HHJ Trial Attorneys, we have years of experience representing clients in personal injury cases, and we are dedicated to helping our clients recover the compensation they deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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