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The Differences Between Compensatory vs. punitive damages

Compensatory Damages vs Punitive Damages

If someone you love or you get injured due to another person’s negligence or unlawful conduct, you may need to file a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury cases cover a wide range of issues, such as auto accidents, dog bites, medical malpractice, and wrongful death.

In a personal injury case, the injured victim seeks compensation for their losses. The term used to describe these losses in legal terms is “compensatory damages.” However, in addition to compensatory damages, the victim or surviving family member may also be awarded punitive damages. Punitive damages are only available in certain situations and are separate types of damages.

In this article, we will explain what compensatory and punitive damages are, when they apply, and how their value is calculated.

Compensatory Damages in a Personal Injury Case

Compensatory damages are the damages awarded to the plaintiff to compensate them for the losses they have incurred. This type of compensation is only awarded in civil cases. Ohio courts divide compensatory damages into two categories: economic damages and general damages. It’s important to understand both types of damages if you’re involved in a personal injury lawsuit.

Economic Damages

Economic damages refer to the expenses incurred as a result of the injuries. Economic damages aim to reimburse you for what you lost or will incur in the future and nothing more. Medical expenses are the most common expenses related to an injury, but the costs go far beyond that. Examples of economic damages awarded in a personal injury case include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Medical equipment
  • Prescriptions
  • Accommodations for your disability
  • Live-in or nursing home care
  • Domestic services
  • Rehabilitation expenses, such as physical therapy costs
  • Lost earnings
  • Costs to repair or replace damaged property
  • Transportation
  • Funeral and burial expenses

General Damages

In a personal injury case, some losses are apparent, while some are not. In contrast to economic damages, noneconomic or general damages are much more complex and subjective. They are intangible losses that do not have an exact dollar amount and are much more challenging to prove. General damages address a wide range of losses, including

  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Disfigurement
  • Impairment
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Loss of reputation
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of companionship (generally awarded to family members in a wrongful death case)

Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case

While compensatory damages compensate the victim for their losses, punitive damages are awarded to the plaintiff as a way to punish the irresponsible party. Punitive damages are also known as “exemplary damages” and serve as an example to discourage the defendant from behaving that way in the future and, perhaps more importantly, to prevent others from acting in the same manner.

Punitive damages are not tied to a tangible injury, nor are they awarded to compensate the victim for a specific loss. Courts award punitive damages when they feel the defendant’s actions were especially harmful, grossly negligent, or intentional.

Calculating Punitive Damages

There is a lot of controversy over what punitive damage values are appropriate and how they should be calculated. Generally, the following factors are taken into consideration when determining the total value:

  • The nature and severity of the defendant’s actions
  • The defendant’s financial situation
  • The level of harm caused by the defendant’s actions

Punitive damages must be relatively proportionate to the victim’s compensatory damages. In Ohio, the cap on punitive damages is two times the compensatory damages, up to a maximum of $350,000.

Speak with a Qualified Ohio Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured due to another person’s negligent or intentional actions, it is important to speak with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer in Ohio. With over 100 years of collective experience, our attorneys will provide you with skilled and dedicated legal representation. To make sound legal advice available to everyone, we offer a free initial consultation to all of our potential personal injury clients. Our personal injury lawyers will explain your legal options during your consultation and help you determine your next step. Contact Slater & Zurz today to schedule your FREE, no-obligation consultation. Call 888.534.4850.