Compensatory, nominal, and punitive damages are the pillars of personal injury cases. These damages are awarded to those who can demonstrate the harm they’ve experienced was caused by the negligence of another party. Damages provide legal remedies for personal injury claims in the form of monetary compensation.
In 2017, there were 3,885 hospitalizations among Colorado residents injured from motor vehicle crashes and 1,818,616 total emergency room visits. Damages give those injured at the fault of another party a chance to recover some of what they lost and provide relief in the aftermath of an accident.
1. Seeking Damages
When your civil lawsuit is filed and tried successfully you have the right to collect financial compensation for all the losses stemming from the at-fault party’s negligence. The specific damages you’ll be able to recover will depend on the details of your case, state laws, and the extent of your injuries.
Damages can be sought outside of the courtroom by settling the case. If the plaintiff can demonstrate that the defendant acted negligently and breached their duty of care for others, then a settlement may be reached with the defense if the number of damages is found to be reasonable.
Civil court proceedings are expensive and therefore it may in your best interest as well as the best interest of your insurance company to agree on a settlement before proceeding to court. According to the expert attorneys at Bovo Law, it’s better to settle your case outside of court but if both sides are unable to agree, then they may proceed to civil court.
2. Compensatory Damages
A personal injury attorney can offer insight into what types of compensation you may be entitled to but they’re unable to offer any guarantees. Accident lawyers can use their experience with cases similar to yours to give you an estimate of when you may receive compensation for your case and how much it could potentially be.
You will be responsible for proving that others are at fault in your accident before you can pursue compensatory damages. The plaintiff will have to demonstrate that the defendant breached a contract or their duty of care for others by acting negligently. Compensatory damages can be broken into the following two categories:
Economic damages are quantifiable costs accrued due to your accident. Economic damages are easier to demonstrate because they can be measured, fully documented, and may include the following:
- Medical bills and potential medical expenses
- Wages lost and potentially missed income
- Property damage and fees associated with replacing the property permanently and temporarily
- Costs associated with a wrongful death including funeral/burial costs, loss of the deceased’s income, the value of service the deceased would have provided, loss of care and guidance, and the medical expenses accumulated by the deceased before death
- Household services
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Other out of pocket costs
If you’ve experienced a cataclysmic accident, then some of the largest losses you’ve experienced maybe non-economic. Non-economic damages aren’t as easy to measure as economic damages and victims need to demonstrate how they’ve suffered as a result of their accident before they’ll be awarded non-economic damages.
Serious injuries can make the most mundane tasks painful which may lead to questions as to how can you recuperate monetarily for the pain you suffer doing daily tasks. Your accident may have made it impossible for you to enjoy time with your family, clean your home, or perform basic duties at work. Non-economic damages could be awarded under the following circumstances:
- Pain and suffering experienced as a result of the complications of your injuries
- Emotional distress
- Post-traumatic stress
- Damage to your reputation
- Public humiliation
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Exacerbation of prior injuries
Each injury will lead to different conclusions about how much non-economic damages you may recover. Juries may have a harder time assigning a monetary value to your non-economic damages because the losses aren’t direct and the damages are subjective. Non-economic losses have been the subject of state tort and personal injury law reforms because of their opacity.
3. Punitive Damages
Punitive damages differ from compensatory damages in intent because they’re not paid to help the plaintiff recover their losses. Punitive damages are paid to discourage defendants from continuing the negligent behaviors that led to the accident. Punitive damages are meant to act as a deterrent to parties that have acted egregiously and discourage those behaviors. Punitive damages aren’t common but may dramatically alter the total amount of compensation awarded if applicable to your case. Not every lawsuit warrants punitive damages.
Cases with examples of gross negligence, negligence with added recklessness, may be eligible for punitive damages in addition to their compensatory damages. Gross negligent cases could help plaintiffs overcome waiver agreements that may have been signed and rule in favor of punitive damages for the plaintiff. In gross negligent cases, the plaintiff will be responsible for demonstrating how the defendant performed in a negligent way and their added recklessness is found by the jury to supersede the waiver agreement.
4. Nominal Damages
Nominal damages are normally rewarded in a case symbolically. Nominal damages are awarded to show that a legal wrong has occurred and the party responsible for paying them is at-fault for the accident. Nominal damages show that the plaintiff won the suit but no real harm was done in the case.
Nominal damages sometimes can be awarded to cover court costs. Nominal fees are meager and used to show that the court found the defendant to be in the wrong even if they are not responsible for paying a larger amount of compensatory damages.
5. Damage Caps
States like Colorado don’t place a limit on the total amount of economic damages that can be rewarded in a personal injury case. However, some states put limits on the amount of non-economic damages that can be rewarded in a tort claim. Colorado statutes place a cap on the total amount of damages a plaintiff may receive in the following cases:
- Pain and suffering
- Medical malpractice
- Dram shops
- Wrongful deaths
- Punitive damages