Damages Legal Definition

What are Damages?” 

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Damages Legal Definition

Liability to prosecution for damages in abdominal surgery. ©Kirkley, Cyrus A., author

Damages Legal Definition: In the legal world, the term damages refers to the monetary compensation awarded to an injured party. The function of damages is  to “make them whole” following the injury. There are two types of damages: compensatory and punitive. 

Compensatory damages are those that reimburse – or compensate – the victim for financial losses and/or property damage. Also known as actual damages they include compensation for:

  • Medical bills
  • Missed paychecks
  • Property or car repairs 
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering

Punitive damages are imposed to punish a wrongdoer and/or to deter them from behaving similarly in the future. How much punitive damages are awarded is dependent on many factors, including:

  • How egregious the action was
  • Whether or not similar punitive damages have been awarded in similar cases
  • The difference between the amount of the defendant’s actual losses compared with the amount of requested punitive damages

The amount of damages awarded can vary greatly from case to case, and some states have even taken steps to limit punitive damages. However, high punitive damages are awarded in cases where:

  • The harm done is difficult to quantify
  • The injury will require years, or even a lifetime of medical care to manage
  • The defendant’s conduct was extraordinarily offensive.

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Damages and Car Accident Cases

Car accident injury victims are entitled to several types of compensatory damages. They include:

Medical expenses such as:

    • Physical therapy
    • In-home medical services and/or hospice care
    • Consultation fees and co-pays
    • Ambulance costs
    • Medical and/or adaptive equipment (from heating pads and crutches to prosthetic limbs)

Payments for pain and suffering to account for:

    • Emotional distress
    • Loss of consortium or affection
    • Loss of enjoyment of life

Reimbursement for physical damage such as:

    • Car repairs
    • Property repairs

Payments for lost wages, including:

    • Money for missed paychecks
    • Compensation for future diminished earning capacity

While possible, punitive damages awards are rare in car accident injury cases.


Damages and Medical Malpractice Cases

Victims of medical mistakes are eligible for both compensatory damages, and in cases of gross medical misconduct, punitive damages may be levied. 

Compensatory damages in medical malpractice cases is intended to compensate the victim for actual harm caused by their medical provider. This includes compensation for medical bills, missed paychecks, and pain and suffering.

While punitive damages are possible in medical malpractice cases, they are rare. Punitive damages would be awarded in cases where the medical provider engaged in intentionally reckless behavior, or knowingly caused harm.

In recent years there has been a push to reform medical malpractice laws and cap punitive damages. While some states have statutory limits on punitive damages, in some jurisdictions the amount is based on the discretion of a judge.


Damages and Personal Injury Cases

Compensatory and punitive damages are paid out in personal injury cases to compensate a victim for the actual harm done to them. 

Compensatory damages are available in every personal injury action, no matter if you were hurt in a car accident, because of a slip and fall, or as a result of a product defect or medical error. Punitive damages are more rare across the board, and are awarded in cases where gross negligence exists. 

Gross negligence is defined as reckless behavior that disregards the rights, life, and safety of others.


Damages Legal Definition: Workers’ Compensation Cases

When it comes to damages, it should be noted that while you may receive payments for pain and suffering in personal injury actions, they are not available in workers’ compensation cases. With workers’ comp, you are entitled to receive:

  • Weekly compensation checks
  • Payment of medical bills
  • Vocational rehabilitation












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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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