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Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages

Posted on February 20, 2018 in Personal Injury

If you recently incurred injuries in an accident – whether it was a car accident, an incident while using a defective product, or injury on someone else’s property – you might have grounds for a personal injury claim or car accident claim in Las Vegas. While researching possible claims or working with a Las Vegas accident attorney, you might hear the term “damages” often. Damages refer to the monetary value of the harm you suffer after an accident because of someone else’s negligence.

Comparing the Different Types of Damages

You, as a plaintiff, might receive monetary compensation for a variety of reasons. A jury may award damages to ensure that the victims of negligence receive fair compensation for the full extent of their injuries, pain, and suffering. Understanding the different types of damages and the purposes they serve is an important aspect of understanding how the civil justice system works as a whole.

Compensatory Damages

The first type of damages, compensatory damages, are the “main” classification of damages that the courts award a plaintiff. As the name suggests, they seek to “compensate” the victim for their losses. In order to collect compensatory damages, a plaintiff must generally prove:

  • That the defendant owed the plaintiff a “duty of care.” In the case of a car accident, drivers must be reasonably careful on the road by adhering to all traffic laws.
  • The defendant violated their duty of care. This is also called “committing negligence,” and forms the foundation for the vast majority of personal injury cases. Negligence can arise from either action or inaction.
  • The defendant’s negligence directly led to your injuries, and;
  • You suffered harm (incurred damages) as a result.

Your attorney will ask for a certain amount in compensatory damages by adding up all the expenses you incur as a result of your experience. Examples of compensatory damages include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages or any loss in earning capacity
  • Property damage
  • Bodily injury
  • Vehicle repair
  • Continuing costs of medical care and rehabilitation
  • Accommodations to your home, if necessary

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are another way victims receive a financial award, but the courts don’t base these types of damages on compensation. A plaintiff may receive punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages in cases of gross negligence. These types of damages specifically intend to punish the defendant for wrongdoing and discourage similar conduct in the future.

Not all victims of personal injury receive punitive damages. A jury generally only awards these damages when a defendant’s conduct was wanton or reckless. In general, punitive damages send the message that the state won’t tolerate gross negligence or behavior that would lead to suffering. Punitive damages generally involve large awards and may capture media attention.

The Role of Damages in the Civil Court System

Damages seek to provide compensation to victims of negligence in several ways – some provide financial relief from medical bills and lost wages, while other address intangible losses like pain and suffering. In cases involving gross misconduct, you may be able to collect punitive damages that punish the defendant. The system of awarding damages is an integral part of our civil justice system. It allows victims of negligence to attain compensation for their injuries while sending a clear message to those who commit it.

Contact Claggett & Sykes Law Firm

If you or a loved one recently suffered harm in an accident in which someone else was liable, you may be able to collect one or both of these types of damages. The first step is contacting a personal injury attorney in Las Vegas to discuss your legal options.


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