Compensatory Damages vs Punitive Damages

If you believe you have the right to file a personal injury claim, it’s always a good idea to understand what type of compensation you might be able to recover and how much. This way, you can decide if the lawsuit is worth your time and energy before deciding to go through with it.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages refer to the compensation you can receive to cover medical costs, lost income from missing work, future lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering. If you were the victim of a car accident and you missed weeks of work and had to spend time in the hospital, you should be able to recover compensation for that. Additionally, if any of the valuables you had with you during the accident were damaged, you should receive compensation for those as well.

The idea of compensatory damages is to provide the victim with as much relief as possible to try to make them whole again after they have been wronged. This is about justice and fairness. Compensatory damages are usually provided in the event of motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, workplace injuries, and just about any type of accident that is caused by an individual’s negligence.

It’s also important to note that under California law, a plaintiff who is partially at fault for their accident and/or injuries can still recover compensation from a defendant. It is a pure comparative fault state, so a plaintiff can recover damages even if they were 99 percent at fault. Once it is determined how responsible the plaintiff was, the compensation will be reduced by that percentage. For example, a plaintiff is awarded $10,000. It was determined that they were 50 percent at fault. The plaintiff would take home $5,000. The jury is responsible for determining the percentage of fault by the plaintiff.

In order for a defendant to be successful in blaming the plaintiff for the accident or injuries, they must prove that the plaintiff was negligent and their negligence was a substantial factor in causing their harm.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are awarded simply as a way to punish the defendant for certain types of conduct. The goal is to punish them but also deter them and others from engaging in that type of behavior in the future. It’s not about justice or making the plaintiff whole. Typically, the parties who are required to pay punitive damages are large companies or other large entities. This can include hospitals/doctors.

Punitive damages are awarded when the named defendant acted without any regard for the safety and well-being of those around them. The most common situations are medical malpractice, class action lawsuits, instances where the defendant appeared to cause intentional harm to the victim, and any incidents that are determined to be guided by malicious or evil activity that is seen as unacceptable social behavior. More specifically, if the defendant’s behaviors amounted to malice, oppression, or fraud. This must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.

Many states have a cap to the amount of punitive damages that can be recovered, but California has no such rule. Whatever the jury determines you should be awarded in punitive damages is sufficient. The worse the behavior of the defendant, the higher the punitive damages should be.

Call us today to speak with an experienced Los Angeles personal injury lawyer.