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Understanding compensatory and punitive damages

On Behalf of | Jan 7, 2022 | Personal Injury |

When someone suffers injuries, property damage, or both due to someone’s negligence, the aggrieved party may intend to file a personal injury suit. If the person wins the lawsuit, the court may award damages. Not all damages are the same, and New Jersey law distinguishes between compensatory and punitive damages. That said, plaintiffs may receive both compensatory and punitive damages depending on the case.

Compensatory vs. punitive damages

Compensatory damages provide compensation to a plaintiff for a loss. Specifically, the compensation is monetary. So, if someone suffers $1,000 in property damage when a negligent driver crashes into his or her car, the victim may seek compensation for the loss.

Compensatory damages may cover lost wages, medical bills, and other direct monetary losses. There are some non-economic losses that may be covered as well, including emotional distress and pain and suffering. How much a court will award depends on several factors. The plaintiff might need to present records from a psychological evaluation when making an emotional distress claim.

Punitive damages are intended to punish the negligent party while discouraging others from committing the same behavior.

Proving loss and negligence

When seeking damages, the plaintiff must provide evidence of any losses. Of course, with a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must also prove the defendant was negligent. If someone suffered harm after a drunk driver crashed into their vehicle, a police report, emergency room records, and a repair shop’s estimates could provide evidence of damages and negligence.

An insurance settlement may cover a personal injury claim. Some may choose to sue beyond policy limits if the injuries are egregious enough and the defendant has sufficient assets to cover any judgment.