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Compensatory vs Punitive Damages in a Car Accident

Compensatory damages are generally intended to reimburse a victim for losses incurred. In contrast, punitive damages are typically designed to punish a negligent party.

Have you been injured in a car accident? If so, what type of damages are you planning to pursue? When it comes to damages, there are generally two main types: compensatory and punitive. In this article, we’ll explore the nuances of each type of damage and how they differ from one another. 

lawyer calculating damages in car accident case

Compensatory Damages

Otherwise known as actual damages, these damages are intended to reimburse the plaintiff for actual losses incurred as a result of the accident. Though these damages can never completely undo the harm that has been done, they can help the victim of a car accident move forward and recover.

Compensatory damages can be further divided into two categories: special damages and general damages.

Special damages: Among the different types of compensatory damages that may be awarded in an auto injury case, special damages are perhaps the most straightforward. They are intended to reimburse the victim for specific economic losses, such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. 

General damages: General damages, on the other hand, are intangible losses that generally cannot be easily measured in monetary terms. These could include things like shortened life expectancy, damage to reputation, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, disfigurement, etc.

Punitive Damages

As you can tell from the word “Punitive” in the name, punitive damages are designed to punish the negligent party and send a message that such behavior will not be tolerated. These damages are mainly awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious, such as drunk driving or hit-and-run accidents. They can be awarded separately from or in addition to compensatory damages.

The Differences

The main difference between compensatory and punitive damages is compensatory damages are intended to make up for your losses, while punitive damages are meant to punish the at-fault party.

Insurance coverage is another key difference between compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are typically covered by most insurance policies, while punitive damages may not be covered or may be subject to a separate policy limit.

Finally, depending on your state, there’s often a statutory cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded. Compensatory damages, on the other hand, are generally not capped by state law.

The Similarities

In order to receive compensatory or punitive damages, the injured party must typically prove their car accident case with evidence. For example, if you are claiming lost wages, you’ll need to show pay stubs or tax returns. Similarly, in order to receive punitive damages, you’ll need to table evidence that proves beyond reasonable doubt that the other driver’s actions were truly egregious.

A Car Injury Attorney Can Help You Pursue Compensation

This is just an overview of a few of the key differences between compensatory and punitive damages. To know for sure which type of damages you may be entitled to, it’s always best to consult with an experienced car injury attorney. An attorney can help you navigate the complexities of the legal system and ensure that your rights are protected at every step of the way.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an auto accident, don’t hesitate to contact The Hoffman Law Firm today for a free consultation. We have been protecting the rights of injured St. Louis car accident victims for 25 years and can put our experience to work for you!

Free Consultation with a St. Louis Car Accident Lawyer

Don’t talk to an insurance claims adjuster before speaking with The Hoffmann Law Firm, L.L.C. We can help you avoid making statements that may affect the outcome of your case. The consultation is free; you don’t pay unless we get you money!

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Updated: November 4, 2022