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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger

What Are Compensatory Damages? | Full Guide

There are many potential outcomes from personal injury claims. Depending on what happened and how much evidence both parties gathered, the victim may be able to get money to cover lost wages, medical bills, emotional distress, and more.

Personal injury victims can claim two types of damages, specifically: Compensatory and punitive damages. In a sense, compensatory damages cover the victim's actual damages, whereas punitive damages are meant to punish the at-fault party even further.

Not all cases may allow the victim to get punitive damages, though. The best way to navigate this scenario is to talk to the best personal injury attorney in Houston when building a personal injury claim.

Understanding compensatory/punitive damages can be complicated, which is why this page will explain how they influence personal injury cases and what victims must do to ensure they get as much compensation as possible.

Compensatory and Punitive Damages - Full Overview

There are a few key differences between these two terms. The section below addresses everything victims must know before filing their personal injury claim and will answer the question of What are punitive damages?

What Are Compensatory Damages?

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages, in a sense, are all damages awarded to victims/plaintiffs after a settlement. It gives them money to cover the "actual losses" they experienced due to another person's negligence.

Depending on the case, the compensatory damages awarded may include economic and non-economic expenses.

About the Two Types of Compensatory Damages Someone Can Get

There are two types of compensatory damages victims can expect:

Special Damages

Special damages refer to all the actual expenses incurred by the victim after an accident. Some of these include:

  • Medical bills

  • Lost wages

  • Burial expenses

  • Litigation costs

  • Property damage

Victims can prove all of these losses with physical evidence, which isn't something they can always do in the case of general damages. In a car accident, for example, the injured victim can easily document their damages and show them in court if necessary.

General Damages

General damages refer to subjective losses that are harder to quantify in a civil court. These include:

  • Pain and suffering

  • PTSD

  • Mental anguish

  • Shortened life expectancy

  • Disfigurement

  • Future expenses related to medical care

Usually, personal injury cases involve both types of compensatory damages. The monetary award will depend on several factors, such as the circumstances surrounding the accident and the injured person, who is representing the victim, and how much evidence there is available.

What Are Punitive Damages?

A court may award punitive damages under special occasions. Punitive damages are also referred to as "actual damages," "exemplary damages," and "vindictive damages." They're meant to punish the defendant to deter them from committing similar wrongful behavior in the future.

Compensatory damages are more common in product liability and medical malpractice cases, as well as claims involving large companies. However, a person involved in a car accident or other similar case may still get awarded punitive damages.

A defendant may get asked to pay punitive damages if the plaintiff can prove their negligent behavior can cause harm to other people. This may involve drunk driving or knowingly selling a defective product, for example.

Even though punitive damages benefit the victim, they're not meant to compensate them. Instead, they're meant to hopefully prevent the at-fault party from behaving similarly in the future.

What's the Difference Between the Two Terms?

The main difference between compensatory and punitive damages is their effect on a claim.

Compensatory damages are meant to benefit the victim or injured party, whereas punitive ones are meant to punish the defendant.

Another difference is the frequency of these awards. Compensatory damages are more common than punitive damages, as courts may not always ask the defendant to pay for them.

Common Examples Where Someone Can Get Awarded Compensatory and Punitive Damages

Common Examples Where Someone Can Get Awarded Compensatory and Punitive Damages

Compensatory damages cover many personal injury cases. Common scenarios include:

  • Car and truck accidents

  • Motorcycle accidents

  • Bicycle crashes

  • Slip and fall accidents

  • Boating accidents

  • Workplace injuries

  • Construction accidents

These damages can cover the following:

  • Medical expenses

  • Pain and suffering

  • Mental anguish and trauma

  • Lost wages

  • Loss of companionship or consortium

On the other hand, a defendant may only pay punitive damages if they knowingly acted recklessly and put other people's safety at risk. These cases include:

  • The defendant wanted to cause intentional harm to the victim.

  • Medical negligence caused severe injuries to the victim (or their death).

  • Class-action lawsuits involving several victims.

  • Cases motivated by evil intentions.

Sometimes, the defendant may also get asked to pay punitive damages if the lawsuit involves serious injuries.

The money awarded from punitive damages can also be used to pay for all the expenses mentioned above.

Is There a Way to Ensure the Victim Gets Punitive Damages Awarded?

Unfortunately, it's not always possible to secure punitive damages. Some people think that proving negligence is more than enough to get these extra awards. However, victims must also prove beyond a doubt that the defendant acted with a high degree of negligence/recklessness or that they caused the damage intentionally.

Even if there's proof that the defendant acted in any of those ways, that doesn't mean the victim will secure punitive damages. Juries must come to an agreement regarding whether they will award these damages and how much they will ask for.

In Texas, the punitive damages cap is at $200,000 in claims where the victim didn't get economic damages awarded. They're also capped to an amount equal to two times the economic losses plus an equal amount of non-economic factors up to $750,000. These caps may get waived if the defendant violated any section of the Texas Penal Code.

The best way to get a higher chance of earning punitive damages is to work with a professional attorney who can build a strong case against the defendant. They can also help with insight on an average settlement for shoulder injury car accident.

Bottom Line

Navigating personal injury cases may not be easy, especially when there are factors like pain and suffering involved. Gathering enough physical evidence and hiring a professional attorney will make it more likely for the at-fault party to pay punitive damages to the victim.

However, it's crucial to evaluate the case thoroughly with an expert to determine if they can be further punished for their negligent behavior.

Those interested in building a case and evaluating how worth it may be should contact a professional from Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys. These experts have all the necessary knowledge and experience regarding compensatory and punitive damages, which can be the key to ensuring the victim gets enough money to cover all their medical expenses, lost wages, and any other damage.


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