Compensatory Damages Legal Definition

What are Compensatory Damages?” 

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  • Compensatory Damages
Compensatory Damages Legal Example

Example of Compensatory Damages in a lawsuit ©Congressional Research Service

Compensatory Damages legal definition: In personal injury lawsuits, compensatory damages are one of two types of legal compensation that can be awarded. Unlike punitive damages that are intended to punish a defendant for wrongdoing, the purpose of compensatory damages is to reimburse or compensate them for losses associated with their injuries. 


Types of compensatory damages include money for:

  • Medical bills
  • Missed paychecks 
  • Future lost wages due to diminished earning capacity
  • Property damage
  • Emotional distress

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Compensatory Damages and Car Accident Cases

In car accident injury cases, compensatory damages are just that: Damages awarded to compensate you for something you lost. Some types of compensatory damages are straightforward and therefore simple to calculate. They include:

  • Reimbursement for costs associated with medical treatment
  • Compensation for sick days and other time spent off work because of your injuries
  • Money to repair property damage sustained in the accident that caused your injury

Other types of compensatory damages, however, are more difficult to quantify, and are best negotiated with the help of an experienced car accident injury attorney. These types of compensatory damage include:

  • Loss of enjoyment 
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium (this refers to how the relationship between the injury victim and their partner and/ or family was negatively impacted)
  • Pain and suffering


Compensatory Damages and Medical Malpractice Cases

Compensatory damages in medical malpractice cases are similar to those in other personal injury actions but the amounts are often much larger. That’s because victims of medical mistakes often face catastrophic injuries that last a lifetime. 

It is especially important for victims of medical malpractice to understand the types of compensatory damages available under the law, as well as how those awards are calculated. In medical malpractice cases there are two types of compensatory damages – special damages (also referred to as economic damages) and non-economic damages. 

Special damages are those that can be exactly calculated. They include things such as medical bills, missed paychecks, and diminished earnings capacity. Non-economic damages are more difficult to attach a dollar figure to, and include things such as loss of enjoyment of life and emotional distress.

If you or someone you care about was injured because of medical malpractice, it’s important to enlist the help of an experienced personal injury attorney. This is especially true if there is any ambiguity regarding your earnings prior to your injury. Even seemingly straightforward compensatory damages like missed paychecks and lost earning potential could be jeopardized in certain cases. 

You should call a skilled medical malpractice attorney today if any of the following apply in your injury case – the legal compensation you receive could depend on it:

  1. You were not working at the time you were injured
  2. You had plans to take another job at a higher rate of pay, but could not accept solely because of your injury
  3. You were self-employed at the time of the incident that caused your injury

Compensatory Damages and Personal Injury Cases

Compensatory damages are those meant to reimburse or pay a defendant for injuries suffered, property damage sustained, or other losses incurred. They are available in nearly every type of personal injury case, including:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Slip and fall
  • And in some instances, even wrongful death

However, there are several types of compensatory damages in personal injury cases. Special damages are those that specifically relate to the injury victim. Special damages include things such as:

  • Past, present, and future medical bills
  • Missed earnings, past and present
  • Household expenses

In personal injury cases, general damages can also be awarded. These compensate an injury victim for non-monetary losses that are more difficult to quantify. General damages can include:

  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Payments for pain and suffering

In some cases compensatory damages are also paid out in wrongful death cases. These damages are paid out to the victim’s family or loved ones. Types of compensatory damages awarded in wrongful death suits can include:

  • Reimbursement for burial and funeral expenses
  • Costs associated with medical treatment, hospice, and other care rendered prior to death
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of economic support


Compensatory Damages and Workers’ Compensation Cases

Compensatory damages do not come into play in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation cases. That’s because employees injured on the job in Pennsylvania are paid is set by the Workers’ Compensation Act. Workers’ Compensation wages are generally about two-thirds of a workers’ regular rate. 




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“If someone has a serious case, they will get a great effort and a great outcome working with us,” award-winning attorney Victor Pribanic of Pribanic & Pribanic told Best Lawyers Magazine.

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