Have you ever heard of punitive damages? Probably not. How about compensatory? Not likely. Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Here’s a quick overview of the different types of damages in a lawsuit.
What are “damages?”
When someone files a civil lawsuit, they are almost always seeking some type of compensation for what they claim was someone else’s wrongdoing. Damages are the sum of money given to a person or entity as compensation for a loss that was caused by someone else.
For example, in many of our cases, our clients were injured in a crash that wasn’t their fault. The damages they often receive cover things like their medical bills, car replacement, and any future treatments that they’ll need because of their injuries.
In civil lawsuits, damages are often split into two categories – compensatory and punitive.
Compensatory damages are designed to put the injured party in a financial position equal to the one they would have been in if the injury had not occurred. These can be either economic or non-economic damages.
Economic damages are intended to make up for financial losses like medical bills or property damage. Let’s say someone loses control of their truck, crashes into another family’s house, and destroys their living room. The economic compensatory damages would be the costs of repairing that house and getting it back to the same condition it was in before the crash.
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, compensate people for the intangible consequences of an injury such as emotional distress or, in the worst case scenario, the loss of a loved one. Imagine if someone was sitting on the sofa watching television when that truck crashed into the living room. The amount of trauma that a family would go through after losing someone would dramatically outweigh any tangible loss like building repairs or replacing furniture.
Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer, not compensate the victim. This only occurs in cases where a defendant has acted with severe negligence, fraud, or malice.
Sticking with the same example, a jury may consider awarding punitive damages after finding out that the driver of the truck had already been arrested twice for driving drunk, but his company let him continue as a delivery driver anyway. That jury may decide that the company behaved so recklessly in letting a proven drunk driver get behind the wheel that they deserve to be punished.
Because they are not intended to compensate the injured party, punitive damages can only be awarded after compensatory damages.
There are limits on the amount of compensatory and punitive damages that someone can receive in Texas. If you’ve suffered an injury that wasn’t your fault, it’s important to talk with a qualified attorney to be sure that you get full value on your case.