The Difference Between Punitive and Compensatory Damages

Most personal injury cases involve some form of compensatory damages, but some may also qualify for punitive damages. At San Diego Injury Lawyer our team of attorneys is lead by the highly experienced Kerry Steigerwalt. We can help you understand the difference between punitive and compensatory damages so you can determine the type of claim you have and what compensation you can expect. Our legal team in San Diego, CA, can help you seek the full compensation you deserve after suffering an injury. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact our practice online.

Punitive and Compensatory Damages

Punitive and compensatory damages are two distinct forms of restitution that may be awarded.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are pursued in nearly all personal injury cases. These are damages that provide compensation for losses to victims with injuries caused by another party’s negligent behavior. In many cases, a portion or all of the compensatory damages are paid by the defendant’s insurance company. Victims in a car accident, for example, can file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. 

Photo of a man with his head in his hands

Compensatory damages may cover one or multiple forms of loss depending on the specifics of an individual case, such as:

  • Damage to property, such as a vehicle or home
  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering caused by the injury
  • The victim’s medical expenses, which may include hospitalization, surgery, medication, physical therapy, and more
  • Loss of wages or loss of income as a result of extended time off of work or an inability to return to work permanently
  • Reduction in the victim’s quality of life

Compensatory damages may also be awarded to the family of a victim, especially in cases of wrongful death.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are sometimes pursued in addition to compensatory damages. This form of restitution is often awarded to further punish a defendant for their intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent actions. Punitive damages are often pursued in personal injury cases such as motor vehicle accidents where the driver was drunk or under the influence of drugs. 

Illegal activities can warrant further punishment from to the court to deter this behavior, and punitive damages serve this purpose.

In other cases, a manufacturer of a pharmaceutical drug may have failed to perform thorough tests before marketing a new prescription or may have purposely hid negative test results and released a medication to the market. These actions can cause victims to suffer severe side effects, for which the manufacturer can be held liable for their negligent or purposely deceitful tactics. These illegal activities can warrant further punishment from to the court to deter this behavior, and punitive damages serve this purpose.

However, an important consideration is that not all responsible parties will have sufficient funds to make pursuing punitive damages worthwhile. A large manufacturer may have enough resources that enable them to pay punitive damages. Unfortunately, in cases with other drivers, property owners, or individuals, the liable party may not possess sufficient income or assets for victims to receive sufficient punitive compensation. 

Receive Personalized Counsel

If you have been injured and are unsure about the legal options available to you, we can help. At San Diego Injury Lawyer, we work on a contingency basis, which means you do not owe any legal fees until you have received a jury verdict or settlement. For a free consultation, contact our law office online or call (858) 413-9228 today.