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What Is the Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages?

August 24, 2020

Have you sustained injuries as a result of someone else’s negligent actions? If so, you may qualify for compensation through a personal injury lawsuit in Colorado civil court. Filing a personal injury claim allows you to collect damages for any financial, physical, or emotional losses you suffered due to the injury. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your accident, you may be eligible for additional compensation, known as punitive damages.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

After an accident, you may sustain serious consequences, such as expensive medical bills, weeks of missed work, and severe physical pain. The primary purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to help you recover these losses through compensatory damages.

Compensatory damages refer to two specific categories of compensation: economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are your out-of-pocket losses, while non-economic damages involve your physical and emotional pain and suffering.

Economic compensatory damages in personal injury cases may include the following.

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Transportation to and from treatment
  • Physical therapy and disability accommodations
  • Lost wages during your recovery period
  • Property damage, including vehicle repairs
  • Loss of future earning potential

Non-economic compensatory damages are more difficult to quantify, since you cannot provide a receipt or invoice for them. Your attorney will help you identify the estimated value of your non-economic damages, which may include the following.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Severe, debilitating pain
  • Chronic pain and disability
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Mental anguish

All of the compensatory damages you claim must relate to the injuries you sustained due to the at-fault party’s negligence. If you had an existing illness or injury prior to the accident, you can only claim damages associated with treating any new injuries and, in some cases, the aggravation of pre-existing conditions. Your attorney can help you gather the necessary evidence to establish your individual damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages do not intend to compensate you for your physical, emotional, and financial losses. Instead, Colorado courts assign punitive damages in claims that involve egregious and severe acts of negligence. The purpose of punitive damages is to deter the at-fault party from committing the same actions in the future.

To receive punitive damages in your claim, you must prove that the at-fault party’s actions involved an act of fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct. You must have suffered an injury as a direct result of these egregious actions. The total amount of punitive damages you receive cannot exceed the amount of compensatory damages in your settlement.

Not all personal injury cases qualify for punitive damages, and they can. However, if your case involves aggravating factors such as violent crime, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or discrimination, you may qualify for this compensation. However, you should discuss your eligibility with a Colorado personal injury lawyer first.

If you are filing a personal injury claim, it is important to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. Hiring a personal injury attorney to represent your lawsuit can help you identify all possible pathways to compensation, ensuring you ask for enough funds to cover your injuries and ongoing expenses.

Your attorney will also be able to determine whether or not you may qualify for punitive damages and evaluate any settlement offers you may receive, assessing if they are sufficient enough to meet your ongoing needs. If you have not done so already, contact a Denver personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options for compensation.

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