A personal injury lawsuit allows injured parties to seek financial compensation for losses due to someone else's negligence. The two types of damages you can pursue as an injury victim include compensatory and punitive damages. 

To pursue the total compensation you deserve for your injury, you should understand the difference between compensatory damages and punitive damages. Knowing the definitions, intent, applicability, and calculations associated with different types of compensation can help you maximize your potential award. A skilled personal injury lawyer in your area can help you understand how these concepts apply to your claim.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages exist to punish the at-fault party for particularly egregious negligence or illegal behavior. A judge awarding the victim additional money to punish a doctor for medical malpractice is an example of punitive damages. These damages go above and beyond the losses you suffered and serve to deter the responsible party from engaging in the same actions in the future. 

Punitive damage definitions vary by jurisdiction. In most states, judges rarely award punitive damages for personal injury claims. Consult a personal injury attorney near you to learn whether your injury claim is eligible for punitive damages.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages seek financial recovery for the actual damages you sustained due to the other person's negligence. Compensatory damages definitions differ depending on the state, and awards vary by case. Typically, you can seek special damages for tangible economic losses and general damages for more subjective losses. 

Special Damages

Special damages, also known as economic damages, are easier to calculate. The value of special damages derives from clearly documented financial losses. Special compensatory damage examples include: 

  • Emergency care, surgery, and other medical treatment
  • Medical equipment, devices, and prosthetics
  • Prescription medication
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation
  • Psychological treatment 
  • In-home medical care
  • Domestic assistance
  • Property repair and replacement
  • Lost current and future income
  • Modifications to accommodate a disability

Your attorney may calculate and substantiate your claim for special damages using medical bills, invoices, receipts, pay stubs, and other physical evidence. A full accounting of all current and future expenses related to your injuries is crucial so you do not find yourself paying more in the future.

General Damages

General damages, also called non-economic damages, are compensatory damages awarded for subjective losses such as:

  • Emotional distress
  • Mental anguish
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Defamation and loss of reputation
  • Loss of companionship 
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Disability and impairment

Because non-economic damages are intangible, they can be difficult to substantiate. A personal injury attorney familiar with such cases can help you determine how much to pursue and gather evidence to support your claim.

What Is the Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages?

There are three primary differences between compensatory damages versus punitive damages: intention, award frequency, and award calculations. 

Compensatory Is Intended to Compensate, Punitive Is Intended to Punish

Compensatory damages aim to recover actual losses suffered by the injury victim and make them whole. The goal is to secure a sufficient financial award to recover the economic and non-economic losses related to your injuries. 

The intent of punitive damages is to punish the wrongdoer for their grossly negligent or illegal actions. When awarding punitive damages, the court hopes to discourage the wrongful party from repeating the same or similar wrongful actions. Punitive damages also serve as a warning to prevent others from acting similarly.

Compensatory Damage Awards Are More Common

While you may feel that punitive damages are appropriate, your case must meet a very high burden of proof. Compensatory damages are directly provable using available evidence and documentation. 

On the other hand, punitive damages are at the court's discretion. Based on the case details, the judge decides how much the at-fault party should pay as punishment for their actions. For example, to award punitive damages under Florida law, the judge must have clear, convincing evidence that the responsible party engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence. 

Compensatory and Punitive Damage Awards Are Calculated Differently

The court calculates your compensatory damages based on available evidence, like invoices and receipts. For general damages, they may consider previous awards and case law to determine a fair value. There may be statutory limitations on economic or non-economic damages that can affect your final award.

The court determines punitive damages based on the severity of the responsible party's conduct. They may consider the results of a criminal trial and the extent and severity of the victim's injuries. The cap for punitive damages differs by state. For instance, Florida statutes limit punitive damages to three times the compensatory damages awarded in your case. 

Are Punitive Damages Taxable?

The federal Internal Revenue Code indicates that punitive damages are taxable, but certain compensatory damages for personal injury are not. State and local tax requirements differ, so speak with an attorney in your area if you are unsure whether your personal injury award is taxable. 

If You're Looking for Compensation, Get Local Advice From a Personal Injury Lawyer

When you suffer severe injuries due to someone else's negligence, you deserve justice and fair compensation for your losses. A skilled personal injury lawyer from Ratzan Weissman & Boldt can help you understand your legal rights.

As a small boutique firm, Ratzan Weissman & Boldt provides a highly personalized approach to complex personal injury litigation. We firmly believe that quality, not quantity, matters. For this reason, we are selective about both our attorneys and our clientele. When we take on a personal injury claim, our clients can expect focused, dedicated attention that is often absent in giant corporate firms.

If you believe you are entitled to compensatory and punitive damages for a severe accident in Florida, contact a personal injury attorney at Ratzan Weissman & Boldt today. One of our legal team members will thoroughly review the details of your case at no cost to you. If we decide your case is a good fit for our firm, we will tirelessly pursue the maximum compensatory and punitive damages for your losses.