What Is the Difference Between Punitive and Compensatory Damages?

During a personal injury claim in Nashville, you may come across two main categories of damages: punitive and compensatory. The Tennessee courts permit injured victims of negligence to pursue compensatory damages, or financial awards to make up for accident-related losses. Punitive damages, however, come from the judge. They are additional damages a judge may award in some cases, such as for particularly extreme losses or egregious acts from the defendant. Your Tennessee personal injury case could end in both types of damage awards depending on the circumstances; optimize your chances of obtaining maximum compensation with the help of a skilled Nashville personal injury attorney.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

The purpose of compensatory damages is to compensate the accident victim for the losses he or she suffered because of the negligence of another person. Compensatory damages are financial awards an insurance company, judge, or jury may award to an accident victim who has suffered significant financial, physical, or emotional losses due to negligence. If the victim can prove negligence, he or she could potentially recover several types of compensatory damages.

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress or mental anguish
  • Lost income and capacity to earn
  • Property damage costs
  • Lost quality of life
  • Loss of consortium

The two types of compensatory damages are economic and noneconomic. Economic damages are those that impacted the victim’s wallet, such as medical costs and lost wages. Noneconomic damages are those that took a physical or emotional toll on the victim. These can include permanent disabilities, disfigurement, emotional trauma, and other intangible harms. The courts will determine the amount of a victim’s compensatory damages for a personal injury based on the losses the individual and his or her family suffered because of the incident.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages do not aim to compensate for a victim’s losses. Instead, their goal is to punish the defendant. It is a judge’s prerogative to assign a punitive damage award if he or she believes the defendant was grossly negligent, wanton, reckless, or intentional in causing the plaintiff’s injuries and damages. In these cases, a judge may issue an additional monetary award to the plaintiff for the purpose of punishing the defendant for his or her misconduct.

Punitive damages as a punishment do not only speak to the defendant – it serves as a lesson for all others in the community. It tells the community that the courts will not tolerate acts of gross negligence or misconduct. The other purpose of a punitive damage award is to provide additional financial compensation to the victim. If a judge believes compensatory damages are not sufficient to make up for significant or life-changing losses, the judge may award additional punitive damages to provide greater financial support.

Punitive damage awards most often arise in cases involving catastrophic, permanent, or fatal personal injuries. They may also occur in cases involving drunk or distracted driving, defective products, elder abuse, sexual assault, or medical malpractice. It is up to the judge to listen to both sides of the case, review the victim’s losses, and decide whether to award punitive damages in addition to compensatory damage compensation. Some states place a cap on punitive damages, but Tennessee does not. The only damage cap that exists in the state is on medical malpractice noneconomic damages.

What Is Your Case Worth?

It can be difficult to predict punitive damages, since it is the decision of the judge. A personal injury lawyer can evaluate your losses, however, and estimate the value of compensatory damages in your case. You can discover what your claim could be worth during a lawsuit. Working with a lawyer can ensure you do not settle for a too-small settlement offer from an insurance company. An attorney can also demonstrate the severity of your injuries to a judge and jury – potentially increasing your odds of receiving a punitive damage award.