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Types of Money Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits

In New York and elsewhere, personal injury law allows plaintiffs to demand two different types of damages:

  • Actual (or “compensatory”) damages
  • Punitive damages, sometimes called “exemplary damages”

The names of these two categories of damages give some clue as to what they are each meant to accomplish, but further explanation is often helpful.

The purpose of compensatory damages is to return the injured person to his or her status before the injury. Attorneys and judges often call this “making the plaintiff whole.” Another way to think about compensatory damages is that it is the amount of money that should turn back time and make it as if the plaintiff never suffered the injury in question. Obviously, we cannot travel back in time, so this is the best and only remedy that the law provides.

There are two categories of compensatory damages:

  • Economic damages are actual monetary expenses and costs due to the injury—things like lost income due to time away from work, medical bills unreimbursed by health insurance, and property damage
  • Noneconomic damages is a category of compensatory damages with the purpose of compensating the injury victim for intangible losses that do not usually have a monetary value—things like mental anguish, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering

Whereas compensatory damages are related to the injury victim’s needs, punitive damages are addressed to the person or company that caused the injury. Punitive damages is a monetary award to the plaintiff, taken from the defendant, intended to punish the defendant for wrongdoing. In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages may be awarded where the actions of the defendant (person or business) who caused the injury was either intentional, criminal, wanton, reckless or malicious and represents such a high degree of immorality that punitive damages are appropriate. Cover-ups to conceal the wrongdoing may be considered by the jury in assessing the appropriate amount of punitive damages, along with the defendant’s financial status or degree of wealth. (Delete this sentence – not the law in NY: In some types of personal injury lawsuits, a state law specifies how the judge or jury in the case must determine the amount of punitive damages—for example, as three times the amount of compensatory damages.)

If you are seeking a personal injury attorney for yourself or a loved one following a serious accident, contact The Pryor Law Firm. Our firm has served the New York City area for two decades. During the past 25 years, we have achieved full and fair compensation for our clients in countless serious accident and wrongful death cases.

Firm founder Kenneth A. Pryor is a member in the prestigious Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Mr. Pryor is an experienced trial lawyer who teaches trial skills as an adjunct law school professor. Our firm can provide the knowledgeable and experienced legal representation you need.

The Pryor Law Firm maintains offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Nassau County. We handle personal injury cases exclusively on a contingency fee basis (meaning you pay no fee unless we recover compensation for you) and we can visit you or your loved one at home or at a hospital if travel is too difficult. To contact us for confidential advice following a serious injury or fatal accident, submit our online contact form or call (855) 409-1906.

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