Understanding the Difference between Compensatory and Punitive Damages

Injury Claim

Updated January 13, 2023

If you have been injured as a result of someone else's negligence – such as in a car accidentpersonal injury law allows you to seek compensation for the damages you have suffered and these amount to compensatory damages.

Punitive damages are less common, but they can play an important role in situations in which the at-fault party's behavior is so egregious that the law chooses to punish him or her monetarily.

If you have been injured, it is essential to understand the basics of compensatory and punitive damages. Learn more about the difference between compensatory damages and punitive damages, then contact a skilled Killeen personal injury lawyer for help with your case.

Your Compensatory Damages

As the name suggests, compensatory damages compensate you for the losses you suffer as a result of another person's negligence. If someone else’s negligence leaves you injured, the compensatory damages you seek will likely fall into the following categories:

Medical Costs

If you have been seriously injured, your medical expenses can include emergency care, hospitalization, surgery, and follow-up care, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and much more.

Lost Earnings

While you are regaining your strength and health, you will likely miss work and experience an attendant downturn in earnings. If your injuries are quite serious and have long-term consequences, you could be looking at ongoing diminished earnings.

Property Damage

Negligence can often leave destruction in its wake. If you have suffered property losses due to negligence, you are entitled to financial compensation.

Pain and Suffering

The physical and emotional pain and suffering associated with being injured as a result of someone else’s negligence in a terrifying accident can be exceptionally difficult to overcome.

You can typically document your economic losses with receipts and statements that show the exact dollar value of the loss. While pain and suffering losses cannot be assigned a specific value from a receipt, you are entitled to be fairly compensated for it.

The insurance company must make a settlement offer that fairly accounts for all of your losses. If not, you have the right to take your case to trial and let a jury decide what fair compensation is for your pain and suffering.

The compensatory damages you seek can be extensive, but obtaining the compensation that is sufficient to cover your complete range of damages can be critical to your recovery.

Punitive Damages

In addition to compensatory damages, some injury victims are also able to recover punitive damages. In the State of Texas, punitive damages are called exemplary damages because they are intended to make an example of the at-fault party and to help motivate others not to follow suit.

Exemplary damages, in other words, are meant to act as a financial deterrent to others (and to convince the at-fault party to cease and desist with the reckless behavior in question).

Punitive damages are only available in the most serious cases. They are rarely awarded against an individual - even individuals who engage in especially dangerous actions, such as extreme DUI. Punitive damages are most often awarded against large companies. Here are some examples of egregious acts that can lead to a punitive damage award against a company:

  • Hiding the safety defects in their products from federal regulators

  • Failing to meet state or federal safety regulations

  • Repeatedly ignoring other cases involving the same safety problem

  • Causing clients more injury or financial loss by denying valid claims

Eligibility for Punitive Damages

In order to attain eligibility for punitive damages in Texas, you must have clear and convincing evidence that the damages you incurred were a result of the at-fault party engaging in one of the following:

  • Gross negligence

  • Malice

  • Fraud

When it comes to punitive damage, the burden of proof you face is high. Regular old, garden variety negligence will not cut it. In the end, you will need to be able to clearly demonstrate that the defendant engaged in gross negligence, which involves an intense and probable risk of harm that he or she was aware of. Examples of when punitive damage may be deemed appropriate can include:

  • A drug manufacturer that continues to sell a drug known to be dangerous as a means of making a profit

  • A reckless driver who engages in practices that are so negligent they wantonly ignore the safety of others

  • A nursing home that allows its residents to be abused

You Need an Experienced Killeen Personal Injury Attorney on Your Side

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – has a wealth of experience successfully guiding claims like yours toward resolutions that address our clients’ full range of damages – and seeking punitive damages as appropriate.

We are on your side, so please do not wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information about how we can help you today.

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