In a personal injury case, the plaintiff may collect compensation for losses they incurred due to someone else’s carelessness.

In cases involving more egregious behavior, the court may award punitive damages. However, the circumstances must meet specific requirements.

Difference between compensatory and punitive damages

Compensatory damages refer to the economic and non-economic losses associated with a personal injury case. For example, if you suffered injuries in a car accident, you may file a claim to recover the cost of medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering. Recovery of those damages compensates you for the financial, physical, and emotional losses associated with the injuries.

Punitive damages do not compensate for any tangible or intangible losses. The court orders payment of punitive damages as a form of punishment expected to deter the defendant from similar behavior in the future.

Actions that warrant an award of punitive damages

Negligent actions, such as standard carelessness, are not enough to warrant punitive damages. However, if the defendant acted with complete disregard for the lives and safety of others, the court will likely order them to pay punitive damages. For example, a car accident caused by distracted driving, such as looking at the phone, shows negligent behavior and warrants payment of compensatory damages. A car accident caused by a drunk driver displays gross negligent behavior and warrants payment of punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.

An award of punitive damages in a personal injury case is rare. However, the circumstances surrounding every personal injury case are different and require special consideration.