Compensatory damages and punitive damages are comparable in the sense that they offer compensation to the plaintiff of a case but they have some differences pertaining to how they are rewarded. Compensatory damages are damages that are awarded to a plaintiff in a civil law case for injuries incurred as a result of the actions of the defendant, lost wages, lost profits, hospital bills (current and future), cost of home medical care, property damage, mental anguish, loss of friends, loss of respect in the community, loss of reputation, loss of consortium and pain and suffering. The objective of compensatory damages is to return the plaintiff to the place that they were in before the injury occurred. Compensatory damages are also referred to as special damages by certain insurance companies. Special damages also refers to the money lost as a result of the injury caused by the defendant in the case. For instance, the defendant mugs the plaintiff and in the process steals a watch and a ring from the victim. The defendant has been caught but the watch and ring have already been pawned by the defendant. The victim, or plaintiff, can ask for compensatory damages for the loss of the ring and the watch. The plaintiff will have to prove how much each piece of jewelry cost them, so having receipts would be helpful for the plaintiff’s attorney.
Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages and are not awarded to the plaintiff of a case as often as compensatory damages are awarded. Punitive damages will only be awarded by the judge presiding over the case if the defendant’s act was so horrible and offensive that the court believes it is important to make an example out of the defendant from the case. Punitive damages are meant to be a punishment for the defendant and to deter the defendant from committing the same crime again. By making an example of the defendant by rewarding the plaintiff punitive damages the judge is hoping to deter other criminals from committing the same crime as the defendant in the case in question. Punitive damages are added to the compensatory damages that have already been awarded to the plaintiff by the judge. This helps to make an example of the defendant. The judge may order the defendant of a case to pay the following fees if the plaintiff prevails in a trial along with compensatory and punitive damages:
- Fees charged by expert witnesses
- Court reporter fees
- Costs of constructing exhibits
- Reproduction costs
- Miscellaneous legal costs
Punitive damages that are awarded in the court system of the United States are subject to the limitations imposed by the due process of law clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The percent of cases that go to civil trial and have punitive damages awarded in them is two percent. Also, studies show that the median amount of punitive damages awarded in a civil case is anywhere from $38,000-$50,000.