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What's the Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages?

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If you are injured due to the fault of another party, whether in a car crash, through medical malpractice, or in another kind of accident, you may be eligible to receive damages. Damages refers to the sum of money a person is entitled to after another party has caused them harm through a breach of duty or violation of a right.

The term “damages” generally encompasses two specific types of damages. Compensatory damages are designed to give justice to someone who has been wronged, and punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages with the intention of preventing others from being hurt by the same actions in the future. Punitive damages are not awarded in every case. When a court decides to award punitive damages, it is because the defendant’s behavior has been deemed especially harmful and worthy of punishment.

Our team of personal injury lawyers works to defend the rights of those individuals in Houston, TX who have been injured by the fault of someone else. We have experience winning both compensatory and punitive damages for the clients we have served, and we know how to look for evidence that you are entitled to one or both of these categories of damages.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages, also referred to as actual damages, are awarded in direct response to the losses that the injured party suffered. This type of compensation is likely the one with which you are more familiar. It is what is most frequently applied in personal injury cases. The amount of money awarded is based on the level of harm, loss, or injury sustained, and does not aim to punish the defendant but to compensate the plaintiff.

Compensatory damages are further divided into two categories: special damages and general damages. Let’s take a closer look at each category in turn, as these two types of damages will probably be the ones most relevant to your claim if you are involved in a personal injury lawsuit.

Special damages are based on tangible, calculatable expenses directly resulting from the injury or harm. Entitlement to special damages can be proven by your lawyer through the presentation of physical evidence like bills and records. Special damages can include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Fixing or replacing damaged property
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Lost wages or loss of future income
  • Litigation costs
  • Transportation costs
  • Home caretaking costs
  • Fees for needed services
  • Loss of irreplaceable items

On the other hand, general damages are the less tangible, but equally real, damages that individuals sustain in personal injury cases. Because of their non-economic nature, general damages are usually somewhat more challenging to calculate and prove than special damages. This category of damages can cover:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Loss of consortium (loss of a close personal relationship)
  • Mental anguish
  • Anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Damage to reputation
  • Disfigurement
  • Shortened life expectancy

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages, or exemplary damages, are meant to go beyond merely giving justice to wronged parties and “set an example” so the negligent behavior does not happen again. Punitive damages are never awarded on their own, only when other damages have already been given, and are awarded in only about 5% of verdicts. Relatively rare in personal injury cases, punitive damages are only available in cases in which the defendant acted fraudulently, intentionally, or willfully and wantonly.

You may have heard of cases in which manufacturing companies intentionally hide evidence of toxins in products, drunk drivers cause accidents killing multiple people, organizations conceal ongoing sexual abuse, or companies willfully defraud the public. In situations such as these, the application of punitive damages may be justified.

Punitive damages punish a defendant for negligence and prevent future occurrences. When the decision is made to apply punitive damages, the defendant is most often a large corporation or organization but is at times an individual. This category of damages is sometimes awarded in the following types of cases:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Defective products
  • Dangerous conduct
  • Gross negligence
  • Intoxicated driving in severe cases
  • Violation of anti-discrimination laws
  • Negligence occurring with criminal conduct

Hire a Houston Personal Injury Lawyer with Experience

To be able to precisely determine what type and how much compensation you deserve, your lawyer needs to be both experienced and proactive, knowing where to find evidence and taking the initiative to uncover every detail. You should never have to look back on your personal injury case and wonder why your lawyer didn’t do more to help you recover damages.

We at Buckingham & Vega Law Firm have seen every kind of personal injury case, from minor fender benders to multimillion-dollar medical malpractice lawsuits. We believe that no case is too big or too small to deserve our best efforts and most personal attention. We welcome you to get in touch with us today with any questions you may have regarding your case. We never charge a fee for an initial no-obligation consultation with one of our team members.

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