Petrarca and Petrarca Law Offices

A providence personal injury lawyer explaining the difference between compensatory and punitive damages

Compensatory vs Punitive Damages: What’s The Difference?

When you suffer a life-changing injury or accident, you may be able to sue the responsible person in a civil case for compensatory vs punitive damages. There are two main types of damages recognized in Rhode Island, which serve different purposes in the legal system — it’s even possible for the court to award both in a single case. Below, learn more about the different kinds of damages courtesy of a RI personal injury lawyer. Plus, get info on calculating the possible sum of damages you could receive in a lawsuit.

What are “damages” in a lawsuit? Compensatory vs Punitive explained

In a civil lawsuit, “damages” are the monetary awards that the “liable” (responsible) party pays the injured party. However, you don’t have to be physically injured to receive damages. It’s possible to receive damages for your affected property, like a car or house.

In order to receive damages in a civil suit, you and your lawyers will generally need to prove that another person or party acted negligently in some way. For example, if they were driving under the influence and crashed into your car.

Compensatory vs punitive damages

In a Rhode Island civil lawsuit, there are two main types of damages that a court can impose against a responsible person or group: Compensatory vs punitive damages. There are also different subtypes of damages, which we’ll go over more in a bit.

Compensatory vs Punitive damages explanation chart

Compensatory damages

Compensatory damages, also called actual damages, are meant to compensate a person who was wronged with an amount that’s equivalent to what they lost. Sometimes the liable person or party covers the expenses out of pocket; other times, it may be their insurance company.

Examples of compensatory damages

There are three general subtypes of compensatory damages, which include the following.

  • Special damages: These damages are tangible expenses, like property damages, lost wages, sick or vacation time, or other out-of-pocket expenses you incurred as a result of the accident or injury.
  • Medical special damages: These damages cover the cost of any medical care you need as a result of your injury, such as doctor and hospital visits, ambulance rides, medication, and other medical treatments.
  • General damages: Also called “pain and suffering damages”. General damages are meant to compensate you for the non-monetary suffering you endured from your injury, like pain or anxiety.

How much is my case worth? How to calculate compensatory damages

To calculate a possible sum for compensatory damages, you can begin by adding together all of your special damages, like your lost wages, property damages, and medical bills. This can give you a starting point for the amount you may seek in a lawsuit. However, things get trickier when you add in pain and suffering. After all, it’s difficult to put an exact price on your quality of life. As a result, there isn’t a single standard formula to calculate your general damages.

Some insurance companies suggest multiplying the sum of all your special damages by anywhere from 1.5 to 5, as a starting point for your general damages. The possible amount you can receive can vary, based on your particular case and the court’s discretion. But more severe injuries can generally warrant higher pain and suffering damage settlements.

For instance, if you suffered a broken arm and have $2,000 in medical bills, your attorney may ask for $2,500 in general damages. ($2,000 x 1.5.) On the other hand, if you suffered a more severe injury resulting in $50,000 in medical bills, the amount might be as high as $250,000 ($50,000 x 5.)

Punitive damages

Punitive damages, also called exemplary damages, are meant to act as a form of punishment.

If the court doesn’t believe that the compensatory damages are enough to properly deter the responsible person from repeating their actions, they may bestow punitive damages against them as an extra deterrent. Punitive damages “hit them in the pocketbook.”

Examples of punitive damages

Punitive damages are awarded at the court’s discretion if they find the responsible party’s actions exceptionally harmful. To qualify for punitive damages under Rhode Island law, you’ll need to prove that the other party “acted with the intent to cause harm” and with “malice or in bad faith.”

Do I qualify for compensatory vs punitive damages?

That depends on your specific case. If you can prove that the other party is liable for your injuries or property damages, you’ll likely be able to recover compensatory damages from them in a civil lawsuit. On the other hand, punitive damages are fairly rare: Courts only apply them in around 5% of verdicts. They’re not awarded in contract law cases and are reserved for other crimes, like assault and battery.

For more specific guidance on your case, it’s important to consult a Rhode Island personal injury lawyer for advice on the possible amount you could receive, and the best path forward.

A Providence personal injury lawyer you can trust

If you have more questions about recovering damages in a lawsuit, Petrarca Law is here for you. As an experienced RI personal injury lawyer, we’ve successfully fought to recover damages on behalf of our clients, helping them receive the funds they need to get their lives back on track. We’ll thoroughly analyze your case and help you understand the potential damages you could recoup — and we’ll fight to help you get what you rightfully deserve under the law.

Contact our office today for a free consultation.