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What Is the Difference Between Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages?

Posted On 09/16/20 by Begam Marks & Traulson, PA

When somebody else’s negligence, intent to harm or reckless disregard for the safety of others gives you a personal injury, the at-fault party may owe you financial compensation. The word for money awarded to a victim in a personal injury claim is damages. The courts in Arizona divide damages into two key categories: compensatory and punitive. You may need help from a personal injury attorney to recover maximum compensation for all of your losses.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages make an injured accident victim whole again. They serve to compensate a plaintiff for the damages sustained because of another person’s negligence. If you broke a rib in a car accident, for example, and had to deal with related medical bills and lost wages from missed time at work, the driver who caused the wreck would owe you compensatory damages for these losses. The two types of compensatory damages available are special and general.

Special (Economic) Damages

Special damages are those that are specific to the particular case and person. They describe economic losses connected to an accident, such as costs you had to pay out of pocket. Special damages are designed to restore you to the financial state you were in before your accident.

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Property damages
  • Lost capacity to earn
  • Disability costs
  • Legal expenses
  • Travel expenses

You may need a lawyer’s help to calculate and prove economic damages. You may have losses you did not think about, such as mileage costs to drive to a doctor’s appointment or future losses. A lawyer can help you identify them all.

General (Noneconomic) Damages

General damages are those any reasonable person would suffer in an accident. They describe intangible or noneconomic damages rather than monetary ones. Common examples are pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, diminished enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, humiliation, inconvenience and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is generally up to a jury to calculate general damages based on testimony from the plaintiff and other evidence of noneconomic losses.

Your lawyer will calculate compensatory damages by first adding up the total economic cost of your accident. It can help your lawyer to keep bills, receipts and financial statements related to the accident for easier calculations. Then, your lawyer will help you demonstrate your general damages through means such as statements from you, an injury journal, testimony from people close to you and a medical expert. Your lawyer will gauge the value of your general damages based on the severity of your injury and how much pain and suffering it inflicted.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages do not serve to compensate an accident victim or make him or her whole again. Instead, lawmakers designed punitive damages to punish the person at fault for the accident. Punitive damages are meant to discourage the defendant – as well as others in the community who may get the idea to behave similarly – from acting in the same negligent or reckless manner that caused the accident. It is up to a judge to decide on punitive damages. They are typically awarded in cases involving a defendant’s gross negligence or malicious intent to harm.

How Can You Maximize Your Damage Award?

Recovering fair and full compensation for your damages – both economic and noneconomic – is important to your overall healing and recovery as an accident victim in Arizona. Forcing a negligent party to pay for your past and future losses could allow you to move forward with justice, peace of mind and the money you need to pay for your damages. You may be able to maximize your total award by hiring a Phoenix personal injury attorney. An attorney can explain all the types of damages that may be available to you, as well as help you fight for maximum results.