Personal InjuryCompensatory Damages vs Punitive Damages

May 28, 2021

Compensatory Damages vs Punitive Damages in Personal Injury

In personal injury claims, there are two main types of damages: compensatory damages and punitive damages. With personal injury lawsuits, those who sustain an injury, experience property damage, or suffer any kind of loss have the opportunity to seek compensation from those who caused those losses or contributed to them. 

As Houston personal injury lawyers, we refer to this compensation as “damages.”

The goal of compensatory damages is to compensate the victim for their damages and losses connected to an accident. Typically, these damages reimburse the victim for medical expenses, repairs to property, pain and suffering, and lost wages. 

On the other hand, punitive damages punish the liable party for their negligence. With an experienced personal injury attorney on your side, you have someone to investigate and calculate the compensation to pursue. 

Punitive Damages

The purpose of punitive damages is to penalize the negligent party and deter others from similar acts of violence or negligence. Typically, personal injury claims don’t involve punitive damages. 

When courts award punitive damages, it typically means that the behavior of the defendant was reprehensible. 

Commonly, these damages arise when a defendant is guilty of malicious acts or fraudulent behavior. Examples of these acts fraud that causes extensive financial harm, sexual assault, and aggravated battery. Other examples include the following. 

  • Outrageous carelessness 
  • Drunk driving 
  • Malicious intent
  • Gross negligence
  • Acts of violence 
  • Class actions with multiple plaintiffs
  • Environmental torts

In some high-profile personal injury cases, juries award punitive damages against defendants with “deep pockets.” Oftentimes, these include product liability cases or car accidents that involve a commercial vehicle, such as an Amazon or FedEx vehicle. 

Punitive Damages and Personal Injury

Generally speaking, the goal of a personal injury lawsuit is to make the victim “whole” again after an accident caused by someone’s negligence. In some cases, judges see fit to add on punitive damages when they believe compensatory damages are not an adequate remedy. 

Alternatively, judges occasionally deem acts so reprehensible that they inflict these damages as retribution. Still, punitive damages require a reasonable basis of proof for the intent behind the act. 

Punitive Damages in Texas

There is a cap on punitive damages in Texas. They may not exceed the greater of these limits. 

  • $200,000 or 
  • Twice the amount of economic damages in addition to an equal amount of non-economic damages up to $750,000

However, in some circumstances, the court decides to waive these limitations. For instance, when a drunk driver causes a collision that results in a catastrophic injury, the court may decide to lift this cap. 

Compensatory Damages

The purpose of compensatory damages is to reimburse the victim of an accident for economic and non-economic losses they suffer. Oftentimes, an insurance company or liable party tries to offer an immediate settlement. Typically, this does not cover the true costs of the victim’s injuries. 

When you work with a Houston personal injury lawyer, they help you understand the full potential of your claim’s value. In many cases, the amount you receive in non-economic damages hinges on the strategy and ability of your lawyer. 

Additionally, personal injury claims require a clear connection between the accident and your mental and emotional well-being. 

Economic Damages

Also known as special damages, economic damages compensate victims for their monetary losses. Generally, these are unique to each victim, so they vary significantly from one claim to another. 

Again, the idea of awarding damages is to make a victim whole. In this case, compensation covers the expenses you accrue or lose as a result of the accident and/or your injuries. 

Economic damages cover any expense or loss directly relevant to your injury. Moreover, there are no specific limits on the types of claims available to you. Additionally, there’s no limit to the amount you request in your personal injury claim. 

Here are some of the common types of economic damages in personal injury lawsuits. 

  • Lost wages
  • Diminished future earnings (or diminished ability to work)
  • Medical bills 
  • Future medical expenses
  • Household and family expenses 
  • Costs related to altered or canceled plans

How We Calculate Economic Damages

Oftentimes, it’s quite straightforward to calculate economic damages. This is because there are exact dollar amounts available for a majority of the charges. Typically, this is because the victim already spent money on their recovery and repairs. 

When the damage to your vehicle amounts to $3500, the negligent driver who caused the crash is liable for economic damages of $3500. 

However, this becomes more complex as we calculate the cost of future medical care or diminished earning capacity. Still, expert witnesses and evidence provide a strong foundation for these costs. 

Non-Economic Damages

Also known as “general damages,” non-economic damages seek to compensate an accident victim for non-monetary damages they incur. Typically, these damages address “harm” in a general sense. 

In many personal injury cases, victims expect some level of non-economic damages. The most common examples include the following. 

  • Loss of companionship or consortium 
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Mental anguish
  • Physical impairment 
  • Reduced quality of life

How We Calculate Non-Economic Damages

Oftentimes, it is difficult to calculate or quantify non-economic damages with precision. Generally speaking, this stems from the fact that we have to apply an exact amount to a subjective situation. Moreover, damages like mental anguish are unique to each claim.  

Still, there are a few factors that help to determine an award. 

  • Severity of the injury 
  • Skill of your personal injury attorneys
  • Sensitivities of the jury 

With imprecise factors at play, awards for non-economic damages vary even in similar personal injury claims. 

Wrongful Death Damages

After a fatal accident, a wrongful death claim seeks to provide damages for the victim’s surviving family and loved ones. Below are the most common types of damages included in these claims. 

  • Funeral and burial costs 
  • Loss of service and support
  • Medical expenses before death 
  • Loss of the victim’s financial contributions
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium or companionship

Collecting Damages in Personal Injury Cases

Once we reach a settlement or a judge and jury award damages in court, you are officially entitled to the damages in your claim. Unfortunately, receiving the award and collecting the award are two different things. 

In many cases, we file personal injury claims with a defendant’s insurance company. When this is the case, the collection is typically straightforward. However, some injury cases involve defective products where we hold a company liable. 

When a defendant is on the hook for damages, they aren’t always able to satisfy the entire award. In some cases, they simply refuse to pay. With your personal injury attorney, you have an advocate to help with the collection process. 

We work to discover undisclosed assets, place liens on properties, or even garnish wages. Moreover, interest accrues on damages awards until they pay them off. Often, this motivates defendants to pay. 

Compensatory Damages, Punitive Damages, and AP Law Group

When you need an advocate on your side, trust in our Houston personal injury lawyers to hold the liable accountable. After an accident, it’s essential to seek compensation in order to cover the array of costs that accrue. 

When the expenses mount, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. We understand how difficult these situations are. That’s why we fight for injured Texans and help them seek the compensation and justice they deserve. Let us fight for you as you focus on healing. Schedule a free consultation today. 


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