Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages

If you were seriously injured in a car crash or otherwise injured as a result of someone else’s negligent or reckless behavior, you have the right to seek compensation. In a personal injury case, damages are generally split between “compensatory” and “punitive” damages. Cases in which punitive damages are available can result in especially large damages awards. But what exactly is the difference between the two types of damages? Read on to learn about compensatory and punitive damages in a New York personal injury case. If you were hurt in a car crash, slip and fall, or any other accident caused by someone’s negligence in New York, call our skilled Bronx personal injury attorney for advice and assistance.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

“Compensatory” damages are monetary damages intended to compensate the plaintiff for the harm they suffered. In a personal injury lawsuit, compensatory damages are the primary form of relief sought–the plaintiff wants to be repaid for the harm the defendant’s actions caused them. In a personal injury case, compensatory damages are further split into two categories: economic and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages are the direct, quantifiable (or at least estimable) harm the plaintiff suffered as a result of the incident giving rise to the claim. Economic damages cover out-of-pocket financial harms including:

  • Property damage
  • Existing medical costs
  • Anticipated costs of future medical care, including treatments, surgeries, prosthetics, medications, nursing care, counseling, and physical therapy/rehabilitation
  • Wages lost due to recovery
  • Diminished future earning capacity due to temporary or permanent disability

Economic damages can be used to compensate for both physical and mental injuries, so long as there is a direct financial cost (e.g., the cost of psychiatric care for a mental health issue deriving from the incident).

Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, refer to other harm suffered by the plaintiff that is harder to quantify and might not be directly financial in nature. Noneconomic damages tend to be more emotional or psychological. They are no less real than economic harms, but they are more difficult to objectively measure. Noneconomic damages include things like:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress resulting from the incident (depression, anxiety, etc.)
  • Loss of life enjoyment
  • Loss of companionship
  • Disfigurement

Noneconomic damages are not recoverable from insurance in a no-fault claim after a car crash. In order to recover noneconomic damages after a New York car accident, the accident victim must get outside of the no-fault system to file a direct claim against the defendant.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not about the victim. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for especially egregious or malicious conduct, in order to deter future bad acts. In a personal injury case, punitive damages are awarded on top of compensatory damages, often acting as a multiplier to those damages.

To recover punitive damages in a New York personal injury case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions were so deliberately and consciously negligent that they constituted “willful and wanton” behavior showing a callous disregard for human life or safety. In a car accident case, for example, the plaintiff would need to show either that the at-fault driver deliberately caused the crash or showed an egregious disregard for the safety of others by, for example, driving while severely intoxicated.

In New York, there is no limit on the amount of punitive damages a plaintiff might recover in a typical personal injury case. The plaintiff must, however, meet the high burden of proving the defendant’s bad behavior. Insurance companies do not include punitive damages in settlement offers, meaning the plaintiff must take the case to trial and prove to the jury that the defendant’s conduct was so bad as to warrant punitive damages.

Call a Seasoned Bronx Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you or someone you care about has been hurt as a result of someone else’s negligence, find out if you’re entitled to money damages for your injuries by contacting the dedicated and accomplished New York personal injury lawyers at the Bronx offices of the Kohn Law Firm for a free consultation at 718-409-1200.

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