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Types of Recoverable Damages in Your Personal Injury Lawsuit – Compensatory vs. Punitive

Denver attorneys at Babcock Law help you get familiar with litigation terminology so that you know what you can get compensation for in your injury claim

Every personal injury lawsuit begins with trying to prove negligence. Next comes causation, wherein the plaintiff must show that the other party’s negligence led directly to their injury. Lastly, if the injured party is able to prove establish these two things, they must then determine the damages (a sum of money claimed or awarded in compensation for a loss or injury) they are seeking to recover in the lawsuit.

Recoverable damages in a personal injury lawsuit are broken into two main classes—compensatory and punitive. It is important that plaintiffs understand the distinctions between the two in order to find out whether or not one (or both) will be able to remedy their injury claim.

Compensatory Damages

The first type of recoverable losses is called “compensatory damages.” Payment that falls under this category is compensation for the plaintiff’s losses and injuries sustained as a result of the accident. Compensatory damage awards are intended to make the injured party financially “whole” again like they were before the accident, or as close as possible.

Within the category of compensatory damages, there are two main sub-types: injuries that are economic in nature and those that are not.

As its name implies, economic compensatory damages refer to those losses that cost money. These types of compensatory damages are fairly clear-cut and generally easy to calculate. They include:

  • Medical treatment – past, present and future medical care and treatments associated with the accident - sum is determined by doctors’ bills, pharmacy receipts, and other healthcare expenses
  • Income loss – compensation for the work wages you’ve lost, as well as the money you would have been able to earn in the future, if not for the accident - based on the accident victim’s “loss of earning capacity”
  • Property loss – reimbursement for any vehicles, clothing, or other personal items damaged as a result of the accident
  • Legal fees – expenses associated with filing the lawsuit—including lawyer fees, travel costs, missed time at work, etc.

Non-economic or “hedonic” compensatory damages on the other hand are intangible injuries that the claimant has suffered. Unlike economic losses, calculating non-economic damages is often difficult because there are no receipts or invoices.

However, Colorado law does put a cap on the amount of monetary awards available for non-economic damages (excluding physical impairment and disfigurement) in injury and wrongful death claims.

Compensatory damages that fall under non-economic injuries include:

  • Pain and suffering – serious discomfort or physical suffering that arose during the accident or in its immediate aftermath…also includes any ongoing or future pain that can be attributed to the accident
  • Emotional distress – the psychological trauma from an injury that a plaintiff suffers, such as anxiety, fear, loss of sleep, etc. 
  • Loss of enjoyment – injuries from the accident that keep a victim from enjoying their day-to-day activities and hobbies
  • Physical impairment or disfigurement – sometimes classified as category unto itself, these injuries include visible scars, paralysis, brain damage and more, and the amount of compensation is assessed by the nature, extent and length of time the injury lasts  

There is no formula for calculating non-economic losses. Many factors can go into deciding this amount, including an individual’s type of work, preexisting injuries and lifestyle. For these reasons and more, it helps to have a Denver personal injury attorney (http://personal-injury.injurylawcolorado.com/) on your side who knows these types of cases very well.

Punitive Damages
The second type of recoverable damages in personal injury litigation is punitive damages. “Punitives” are not applicable in all cases, but rather they are used sparingly in particular situations to punish the wrongful behavior of the party at-fault. Damages that are punitive are neither economic nor non-economic, since they are not intended as compensation for a loss.

Punitives are reserved for offending parties who displayed behavior that is deemed to be so reckless or hazardous that it is considered a demonstration of malice or willful disregard for the safety, health and rights of others. For example, if a car manufacturer knows that the gas tank in its vehicle is likely to explode upon impact but does nothing to change the design in fear of the cost, then their behavior could be classified as willful and punitive charges may be filed.

Obtaining Compensation for Your Injury Claim
Knowing the differences between compensatory and punitive damages is a necessity when trying to legally go after reimbursement for injuries caused by another individual or party. But before you start pursuing compensation for your losses, you must first establish fault. Check out our piece on establishing fault in a car accident and the five elements of negligence for more information.

To discuss how you can prove negligence (https://www.personal-injury.injurylawcolorado.com/negligence-lawsuits.html) and causation in your injury claim, schedule a free consultation with an experienced Colorado personal injury attorney today.

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