If you have ever been involved in a personal injury claim or watched one play out on television, you have likely heard a judge or jury award damages to a victim of a violent accident or crime. Damages are awarded as financial compensation from a defendant to a victim when the defendant’s actions or behavior caused the victim’s injury. There are generally two types of damages that may be awarded, compensatory and punitive. The definitions and differences of the two types of damages are outlined below. Contact a Long Island personal injury lawyer to discuss the details of your personal injury case and acquire the services of a skilled attorney to begin working on getting you the compensation and damages you deserve.

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How Are Compensatory and Punitive Damages Defined?

Though compensatory and punitive damages are both monetary rewards, their similarities end there. The purpose of each is extremely different.

Compensatory damages are any real or physical losses experienced by the victim. They are a form of reimbursement for the victim for both economic and non-economic losses. Because the defendant caused the injury, without their actions the victim would not have had to seek medical treatment, take time off of work, hire a lawyer, etc. Therefore the victim should not be responsible for covering the costs. Non-economic losses that can be included are psychological damage or long-term issues that the victim may experience. Compensatory damages can be used to make up for financial losses related to:

  • Medical bills and expenses
  • Property damage
  • Loss of income or wages
  • Legal fees
  • Pain and suffering
  • PTSD or other emotional disorders
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Reduced life expectancy

Punitive damages are not always awarded but can be found as an additional payment to the victim if a court feels it is necessary. Punitive damages occur when a defendant acts in gross negligence, egregious recklessness, or with particular malicious intent. Some states limit the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded per case, but New York does not have any sort of cap on punitive or compensatory damages.

So What is the Main Difference?

While they are both forms of compensation that a court orders a defendant to pay to a victim, the biggest difference between the two comes in the form of their intent. You must ask yourself why the damages are being awarded.

Compensatory damages are awarded as a means of reimbursement. As discussed, the aftermath of an accident or injury can be intense and expensive. Because the injury was not the victim’s fault, the defendant pays compensatory damages as a way to make the situation more fair. They caused the issue so they should have to pay for the costs.

Punitive damages are awarded not as a benefit to the victim, but as a punishment for the defendant. They are generally unrelated to the victim’s suffering since that was already accounted for when calculating the compensatory damages. If the defendant was incredibly negligent, reckless, or cruel, punitive damages penalize them for their behavior and act as a warning to not repeat the same or similar actions.