Compensatory Vs. Punitive Damages – Knowing The Difference In A Personal Injury Case

October 24, 2022by Brett Buchheit

What Are Legal Damages?

An intuitive reading of the term damages conjures examples like: irreparable damage to one’s vehicle (also known as a total loss), damaged household appliances (frozen pipes may damage home irrigation systems), or even bodily injury (a first-degree burn leads to superficial skin damage). The preceding hypotheticals focus on the negative impact associated with damages. In the legal world, attorneys flip the term on its head, taking a solution-based approach by arguing on behalf of what their clients are owed

Attorneys and judges around the world refer to damages as a remedy for an injured party to make them whole. If you receive a settlement offer from an insurance company after a motor vehicle accident, your monetary compensation falls under the “damages” umbrella. Moreover, “damages” is not a catch-all phrase; compensatory and punitive damages offer different paths towards resolution.

Compensatory Damages

In a personal injury case, the injured party may receive compensatory damages to compensate for all types of losses, including direct costs for medical care, property damage, and lost wages and more abstract costs like pain and suffering. However, an individual may be eligible to receive punitive damages (think punishment for wrongdoing) if the defendant’s behavior is especially harmful. 

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages apply if the plaintiff can prove the defendant engaged in intentional harm or reckless disregard for the safety of others. A pedestrian struck by a car whose driver blew past a stoplight may give cause for punitive damages. 

What Is My Case Worth?

So, what does this mean for you? If you are the victim of a motor vehicle accident, you are entitled to rewards on the basis for covering the cost of medical treatment, lost income, vehicle damage repair, emotional trauma, and other ailments related to the accident. In addition, if the wrongdoer engaged in egregious disregard for the health and safety of others, you may be awarded punitive damages and additional monetary benefits. If you are the victim of a motor vehicle accident, just compensation is your legal right, and an experienced personal injury attorney will ensure you receive as much money as possible. 

Rocky Mountain Personal Injury Lawyers is the leading personal injury firm in Denver. Attorney Brett Buchheit has settled thousands of cases earning millions of dollars in settlement for his clients. Don’t hesitate — call today or schedule your free consultation using our online portal.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


Q: What are compensatory damages?

A: Compensatory damages are awarded to plaintiffs for the actual losses they’ve experienced. This can include reimbursements for medical treatments, medical bills, or any future expenses they may have due to an injury they sustained due to the negligence of another person or entity. These are often referred to as actual damages.

Q: What are punitive damages?

A: Punitive damages, also called “exemplary damages,” are assessed to punish a defendant for negligence. The defendant is usually a company or other large entity. Examples include medical malpractice cases or product liability cases.

Q: What is the difference between compensatory and punitive damages?

A: Compensatory damages awarded to plaintiffs are designed to provide justice to them after being wronged. Punitive damages are designed to prevent others from being hurt by the same or similar actions.

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