Legal Guide

Why Should You Know About Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages are the sum of money awarded to the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit to compensate them for the damage or injury that they suffered. Compensatory damages are designed to "compensate" for the losses suffered by the plaintiff, making them whole. 

For example, if a person’s negligence while driving caused someone else to become injured in an accident, the court may award the victim compensatory damages to compensate them for the damage they suffered, such as medical expenses or property damage. 

Compensatory damages can be awarded in different types of civil litigation, including in cases relating to: 

  • Negligence
  • Malpractice
  • Personal injury 
  • Torts

Why are compensatory damages important in a lawsuit?

Compensatory damages can be a good indicator of the severity of the accident and injury. An accident that only causes scratched paint will probably have lower compensatory damages than an accident resulting in a totaled vehicle. Similarly, a victim who broke their leg due to someone else’s negligence and requires surgery and months of rehabilitation can receive much greater compensatory damages than a victim who required only a couple of weeks of physical therapy.

As your case progresses, your Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney may ask you to routinely inform them about any expenditures that you incur as a result of the injury. They may also ask you to keep them updated on any medical providers who treat your injury, along with your employment situation. Your legal professional will need you to provide every bill, medical record, statement, and receipt to ensure that they know the total amount of compensatory damages to seek for your injury.

What are the two types of compensatory damages? 

Compensatory damages are generally broken down into two types: 

  • Special
  • General

You could be eligible for compensation for one or both types during a personal injury lawsuit. Special damages refer to the expenses you incurred because of the accident and injury. They are the out-of-pocket costs and money that you have spent on your recovery, repairs, and medical treatments. Other names for special damage are economic, tangible, and actual damages. 

General: General damages are the losses any reasonable plaintiff would have suffered in the same accident. These refer to noneconomic, intangible, and estimated losses related to an accident. 

Special Damages: Special damages are the actual damages that you incurred in the accident. Actual damages are intended to provide a monetary award to replace what was lost – nothing more. A judge or jury may order a defendant to reimburse you for any out-of-pocket costs from the accident and injury based on evidence such as medical bills and records, mechanics’ estimates, pay stubs, and receipts. Other things may include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Disability accommodations
  • Live-in care or nursing home care 
  • Domestic services
  • Medical equipment
  • Prescriptions 
  • Rehabilitation and therapies 
  • Lost earnings
  • Damaged or destroyed property
  • Transportation and travel costs 
  • Legal expenses and attorney's fees

The money that you spend on any aspect of the accident, personal injury, or claim can become part of the financial loss that you demand from the defendant. 

Examples of general damages

General compensatory damages compensate for the intangible loss suffered by the victim as a consequence of the actions of the accused. These damages can refer to physical and psychological damage. During personal injury litigation, the jury can determine the amount of general damages. The jury can review the facts of the case and award a reasonable amount of damages to the plaintiff. Things the jury may consider include:

  • Estimated future medical expenses 
  • Reduced future earning potential 
  • Body aches and pains
  • Emotional distress 
  • Psychological trauma
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder 
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Loss of the joy of life
  • Grief and loss of consortium 
  • Disadvantages in everyday life 
  • Humiliation
  • Lost opportunities 

Most personal injury lawsuits seek compensation for special and general damages. If the plaintiff witnessed a traumatic accident, such as the death of a loved one, but was not injured in the accident, they may only seek non-economic losses in most states. 

Punitive Damages: Another type of damages is punitive damages. Compensatory damages are designed to compensate the victims for their losses, while punitive damages are used to punish the defendant for misconduct. 

Although rare, if a judge finds evidence of serious negligence, malice, fraud, or intent to harm the defendant, they can award punitive damages during a personal injury lawsuit. Seasoned personal injury lawyers can provide you with an accurate estimate of the total value of your claim. Seek legal assistance from a Philadelphia personal injury attorney as soon as possible if you or someone close to you is in a similar situation. 


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