What is the Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages

If you get injured in an accident, the next thing you should do after getting treatment is to contact lawyers from a Texas injury law firm to help you pursue compensation. Your claim may end up in court if negotiations with the defendant’s insurance company are not fruitful out of the courtroom.

If the court rules in your favor, you will receive a monetary award for the damages and losses. The court can award two types of damages: compensatory and punitive.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are awarded to give you justice after being wronged. They compensate you for the losses, damages, or injuries you incur in a personal injury case. The award serves to reimburse you for medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and any future expenses you might incur due to injuries caused by a negligent person.

Compensatory damages are generally actual damages and fall into two categories:

  • Special or economic damages: They are tangible and easy to determine because they cover the expenses you incur because of the injury. These include medical bills, lost wages, out-of-pocket litigation costs, and property damages.
  • General or non-economic damages: These are hard to calculate because they’re intangible and subjective. They cover the long-term consequences of the injury, such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, paralysis, and loss of consortium or association.

Getting compensation for injuries sustained in an accident due to the negligence of another is often complex. The defendant or their insurer may try to shortchange you. A skilled San Antonio personal injury lawyer can fight aggressively to ensure you get the compensation you deserve.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are also known as exemplary damages. The court awards them as punishment to the negligent party for their behavior that caused your injuries. The damages also deter others from engaging in similar actions in the future. In most cases, the defendant is a large company or entity.

Examples of cases where punitive damages are commonly awarded are medical malpractice, car accidents, defamation, civil battery, and product liability. For example, if a manufacturer sells a product they know to be faulty and which could cause an injury to make a profit, they could be ordered to pay punitive damages. However, you must prove that they were negligent in their decisions.

Sometimes, individuals may also be ordered to pay punitive damages if they injure someone due to negligence. Excellent examples are drunk or distracted driving cases. If the court establishes that the defendant consciously engages in harmful behavior, it could order them to pay punitive damages.

When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

Courts can only award punitive damages if they establish that the defendant’s behavior is intentional or egregious. In other words, their conduct must be found to be either:
Willful and wanton, meaning that the defendant intended to cause harm

Grossly negligent, meaning the behavior is extreme or reckless instead of unreasonable or careless.

The damages may be awarded when compensatory damages are inadequate for sufficient deterrence. The judge must determine that the defendant’s behavior deserves further punishment.

Factors Influencing Punitive Damages

Before a judge awards punitive damages, they must consider several factors, but most importantly:

  • Assess if the actions of the defendant were intentional, malicious, or grossly negligent
  • Evaluate past similar cases and determine if punitive damages were awarded

Proving that the defendant’s actions meet the elements is challenging, especially if they have a defense attorney representing them. You also should engage an experienced personal injury attorney in San Antonio to help you build a strong case. Only with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice can the court order them to pay punitive damages.

How Often Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

Courts don’t always award punitive damages in personal injury cases, but you can request the court to grant them in your case. In cases where a plaintiff pursues punitive damages, they can only be awarded if the plaintiff prevails against the defendant. In other words, punitive damages can only be awarded if compensatory damages are awarded.

The damages are often difficult to obtain because you must prove that the defendant acted reprehensively. Only then can the amount of punitive damages be calculated that could have a deterrent effect on the defendant. The damages must also bear a reasonable relation to the actual harm suffered.

Is There a Cap on Punitive Damages?

In Texas, punitive damages are capped at $200,000 or two times the amount of economic damages plus the amount equal to non-economic damages up to $750,000, whichever is greater.

Working with skilled and aggressive attorneys from a renowned Texas injury law firm can increase your chances of getting the maximum amount you deserve.

For example, if you sustained a spinal injury in a car accident due to gross negligence and you were awarded $2 million for economic losses and $1.5 million for non-economic damages, the maximum punitive damages possible is $4.75 million. The amount is twice the monetary damages, plus $750,000, the maximum for non-economic damages.

A Lawyer Fighting for Punitive Damages to Help You Recover Your Losses

If you sustained injuries due to someone’s wrongful conduct, you might be entitled to recover punitive damages. You must prove they acted maliciously or recklessly for the court to award the damages. Proving these elements can be difficult, but a skilled personal injury lawyer in San Antonio can help.

They can collect all the necessary evidence and build a strong case against the defendant. Our lawyers are the pillar of support you need to help you fight your legal battle. We want you to focus on healing and recovery as we put our best foot forward to pursue the total compensation you deserve. Contact the Law Office of Matthew S. Norris at (210) 549-7633 for maximum compensation.