Understanding the Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages

People in Pennsylvania who have suffered a personal injury may be entitled to a variety of monetary damages. To receive compensation for injury-related losses, victims must present the civil court with sufficient evidence proving liability and damages. Proving liability means placing fault on the party responsible for causing the accident that resulted in your harm. If you are unable to verify liability, you won’t be able to collect compensation; however, once liability is established, you may be eligible to take legal action to secure payment. 

In personal injury cases, compensation—or damages—falls into two main groups: compensatory and punitive. Punitive damages are particularly rare and designed to punish defendants whose behavior is considered grossly negligent. Compensatory damages, on the other hand, are far more common and meant to award money for damages, injuries, and other incurred losses.

Compensatory Damages in Personal Injury Cases

The purpose of compensatory damages, also known as “actual damages,” is to provide the plaintiff with a fair financial payout—one that will cover the losses caused by the defendant and make the plaintiff as close to whole as possible. “Whole” refers to the state that the plaintiff was in before their accident and injuries occurred. An award for compensatory damages may cover losses for two different types of damages: special damages and general damages.

Special Damages

Special damages, or “out of pocket” expenses, represent the types of damages that can be valued with a dollar figure, as these are expenses you’ve directly incurred due to your accident. Determining the value of special damages in your personal injury case is a fairly straightforward process that’s validated through physical evidence, such as medical bills, property damage repairs, and lost wages.

General Damages

General damages, by contrast, entail damages that cannot be easily calculated nor assigned a dollar value. These types of damages are difficult to quantify because they’re subjective, meaning there’s no formula to determine how your injury will affect your life in the long-term. While some losses are almost instantaneous, like missing work or being unable to play your favorite sport, there’s simply no way to tell how being without these life moments contribute to your pain and suffering or emotional distress. Other types of general damages include:

  • Physical disfigurement
  • Permanent disability
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Long-term care

Even without hard evidence, such as receipts and bills, these are losses for which the plaintiff deserves to be compensated. Most courts assign a monetary value for general damages by considering factors like the nature and extent of the accident and injury. For instance, a victim that sustains a traumatic brain injury in a truck accident will undoubtedly be awarded a higher settlement than someone who suffers a few broken bones and lacerations.

Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases 

While compensatory damages are meant to compensate the victim, punitive damages are used as a means of punishing the defendant. The goal of punitive damages is to prevent the defendant from committing an act of the same negligent manner twice. These damages may be pursued when compensatory damages are not enough to adequately replenish the plaintiff for the full extent of their damages.

Though there are no guidelines for which types of cases may be awarded punitive damages, they are commonly awarded in cases where the defendant willfully and knowingly acted without due care for the safety of others. Punitive damages may be available in cases where the plaintiff was seriously injured and the defendant is a part of a large entity, or when the defendant hurt multiple people and the intent was malicious. Such cases may include:

If someone else’s reckless misconduct caused your injuries, that person must be held liable for their wrongdoing. Personal injury cases may be more complex than you initially think and are subject to strict time limits. Count on an experienced Southeastern Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer to promptly build your case, preserve evidence, calculate all damages, and hold negligent parties accountable.

Pursue Maximum Damages with Southeastern Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers

Whether you or someone you love has suffered injuries in an accident, working alongside a Southeastern Pennsylvania lawyer experienced in personal injury law is essential to ensure your rights are protected and to recoup the maximum damages you deserve. The seasoned legal team at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. provides personalized legal services that are innovative, client-centered, and effective. Our Southeastern Pennsylvania injury and accident lawyers harness all resources available to craft tailored solutions for clients through Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

At Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C., we are a people-driven practice. This means that we’re here to help you through the most challenging circumstances and provide you with compassionate advice along the way. More than 270 years of collective experiences and accomplishments cannot be simply summarized on one page. Find out if you have a viable case and if we’re the best fit for you by calling (215) 822-7575 or completing a confidential contact form to schedule a consultation today.