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What are “damages,” and what different types of damages exist?

In a personal injury case, monetary compensation, called “damages,” are paid to the plaintiff by the defendant or the defendant’s insurer. Damages are either agreed upon as a settlement or awarded by a judge or jury following a trial. There are two different types of damages: “compensatory” and “punitive.”

Compensatory damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for his injuries, whether those injuries are physical, financial, or mental. Some are easily quantifiable, while others are difficult to figure. Common types of compensatory damages include:

  • Medical expenses, including acute care and ongoing or rehabilitative care;
  • Lost income, due to time away from work or reduced ability to work in the future;
  • Property loss, such as a damaged vehicle;
  • Pain and suffering;
  • Emotional distress, such as anxiety or loss of sleep (occurring most often in very serious accidents);
  • Loss of enjoyment, or the inability to pursue hobbies or recreation; and
  • Loss of consortium, or the impact of the injuries on the plaintiff’s spousal relationship.

Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant’s actions are deemed particularly reckless or egregious. They are intended to punish the defendant as a deterrent to similar behavior by the defendant and others. Punitive damages can be very high, and most states have set caps on their amounts.

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