When hearing about lawsuits on the news or in day-to-day life, it is common to hear the terms “punitive damages” and “compensatory damages.” Many people may wonder what the difference between these two types of damages is under Texas law. Understanding this distinction is especially important for individuals seeking compensation for damages themselves, such as those pursuing a personal injury case. Here is some information on the difference between these two types of damages.
What are compensatory damages?
Compensatory damages are amounts awarded to a successful plaintiff in order as compensation for the injuries suffered. Compensatory damages fall into one of two categories: general damages and special damages. Special damages are specifically tied to the financial losses an individual has faced due to the incident, such as lost work and medical expenses. General damages include amounts outside of these objectively quantifiable losses, such as emotional distress or pain and suffering. In many personal injury cases, only compensatory damages are awarded.
What are punitive damages?
Punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages if the defendant is found to have acted recklessly, specifically with gross neglect or intent to harm. For a car accident, for example, punitive damages may be involved if someone purposefully hits another person with a vehicle, which would be intent to harm. Another example that might qualify as gross negligence could be driving well over the speed limit in a school zone while children are being let out of classes.
The standard for compensatory damages is simply that the defendant acted outside of how a “reasonable person” would and should act, which is a much lower bar than punitive damages. For this reason, many personal injury plaintiffs do not seek punitive damages, and only around 30% of those who do end up receiving such payments. Nevertheless, there are certainly some incidents that rise to the level of punitive damages being acceptable to seek. An experienced Texas lawyer can help victims of accidents understand what types of damages would be possible to seek in their particular case.