Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages

Damages is the legal term for the compensation you can recover in a personal injury claim. Although most injury victims are concerned with the total dollar amount for which they can be compensated, it is important to understand that different types of damages may be recoverable depending on the details of the case. 

Broadly speaking, compensation in personal injury cases can be divided into two distinct categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Your ability to recover one or both of these types of damages rests on a variety of factors.

Contact the personal injury lawyers at Ventura Law for a free review of your case. Our attorneys serve clients throughout Connecticut and New York.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages refer to the specific losses you have incurred due to the injury or accident. These damages can be further classified as:

  1. Special Damages
  2. General Damages

General and special damages differ in the following respects:

What Are Special Damages?

Special damages refer to the particular financial losses stemming from the accident or injury. They are also known as economic damages.

The special damages you may be entitled to in a personal injury case are calculated from your medical bills and other documentation showing the direct costs associated with your injuries. Special damages are quantifiable, and the amount you can pursue depends on your individual economic losses.

Examples of special damages in a personal injury claim include:

  • Medical expenses, including bills for ambulance transport, emergency room care, hospitalization, surgical treatment, prescription medications, etc.
  • Lost wages
  • Out-of-pocket costs, including reimbursement for the cost of traveling to and from medical appointments, the cost of assistive devices, modifications to the home and vehicle, etc.

A personal injury attorney can pursue special compensatory damages for both current and future losses. Future damages, such as anticipated medical bills and loss of earning capacity, must be grounded in the available evidence and supported by expert testimony.

What Are General Damages?

Unlike special damages, general damages compensate personal injury victims for their non-financial losses. They are also referred to as non-economic damages.

Non-economic damages do not carry a specific dollar amount. Rather, they are based on the nature of your losses as supported by the evidence.

The non-economic damages you may be able to recover in your personal injury claim include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental and emotional distress
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement and scarring
  • Loss of consortium (refers to the loss of relationship with spouses, children, and other dependent family members)

Personal injury law recognizes that the quality and enjoyment of life has value. Accordingly, claimants and plaintiffs in personal injury cases can recover compensation for general damages associated with the adverse effect an accident has on their ability to live the life they previously had.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages differ in many ways from compensatory damages. First, unlike special and general damages, they are not intended to compensate personal injury victims for their losses. As the name suggests, punitive damages fulfill a different purpose: They are intended to penalize defendants for egregious acts.

Second, whereas compensatory damages are calculated from the economic and non-economic damages sustained by the plaintiff, the decision to award punitive damages and the calculation thereof is at the discretion of the court (i.e., the judge or jury hearing the personal injury case).

Third, punitive damages awards are rare. This is due in part to the burden placed on plaintiffs to establish their right to punitive damages.

Generally, the standard for recovery of compensatory damages in personal injury claims is proving that the defendant or defendants were negligent. However, to be awarded punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove gross negligence or malice on the part of the defendant(s).

Punitive damages may also be subject to caps that don’t apply to other forms of damages. For example, unless specified to the contrary by statute, punitive damages awards in Connecticut are generally “limited to plaintiff’s attorneys fees and nontaxable costs.” New York, meanwhile, does not have a cap on punitive damages.

Read More: What Are Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Claim?

What Damages Can I Recover in a Personal Injury Case?

Although it is important to know what kinds of losses are compensable in a personal injury claim, the ultimate amount you may be able to recover depends on the specific elements of your case. For over 60 years, Ventura Law has been helping the victims of other parties’ negligence navigate their legal rights and pursue fair compensation for damages.

The most important step you can take after any accident is to contact an attorney promptly. Our experienced personal injury lawyers will review the details of your case and discuss your options for recovery.

Please call Ventura Law at (203) 800-8000 today for a free case review. Our law firm has offices in Danbury, Bridgeport, Hartford, and Norwalk, Connecticut, as well as in New York City.