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compensatory damages vs punitive damages

What Are the Differences in Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages

When the U.S. Department of Justice previously studied the reward of punitive damages in 2005, they found that only 12 percent of cases that were fighting for punitive damages were actually successful. Compensatory damages tend to be awarded more frequently than punitive damages.

Whether you are suing for compensatory damages or punitive damages will determine how you and your law team will represent your case.

Continue reading to see this comparison of compensatory damages vs punitive damages to determine which one you need to pursue.

Choose a Lawyer Who Understands Your Case

At the Law Office of E. Marvin Romero, you will meet the team that will do everything in their power to get you the money that you need to make up for your accident. Your fight will become our fight when you hire us to help you.

This personal injury lawyer is going to help you win your case by holding the defendant accountable for their actions.  

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are a type of compensation paid out to the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit to cover monetary losses. These losses are easily proven by documentation of medical bills, lost wages, or property damage.

These damages are not easily appealed by the defendant.

There is a cap of $600,000 in compensatory damages when it pertains to medical malpractice in New Mexico.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are not paid as a means to compensate the plaintiff, but to deter further negative behavior from the defendant. Punitive damages can be seen as a punishment for reckless, wanton, or negligent behavior.

Punitive damages are trickier to link to the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions were malicious or intentional.

In cases where punitive damages are awarded, the defendant is aware that they are selling hazardous products and they weren’t warning anyone of the risk.

The defendant can appeal the punitive damages. If they are successful, the judge can change the amount of money that was previously awarded to the plaintiff.

Punitive Damages in New Mexico

While there is no cap on punitive damages in New Mexico, the United States Supreme Court mentions that due process can limit how much a plaintiff can be awarded in punitive damages.

New Mexico may compare the fault of the plaintiff to the defendant. If the plaintiff was partially at fault for their injuries it can affect the amount of money that they get in punitive damages.

An Example of Compensatory Damages

In an example of compensatory damages, picture this: John hits Mary’s car by accident. Mary sustains injuries that need medical attention. She is then billed for a few surgeries and a hospital stay. She also receives the bill from her car getting totaled.

She is out of work for a few weeks while she recovers. Now she doesn’t have the money to pay for the medical expenses. 

Mary sues John for compensatory damages.

She wins the case because she can prove that the damage to her car and to her body was caused by the accident caused by John crashing into her.

An Example of Punitive Damages

Let’s take the previous example with an added twist. 

John purposefully hits Mary’s car after they had gotten into an argument and she drove away. His intention was malicious and reckless because he was trying to hurt her. 

When Mary sues John, she is fighting for both compensatory damages (for the material things that she lost) and punitive damages (to punish John for his reckless behavior). 

John then pays for both types of damages.

Cases of Past Compensatory Damages & Punitive Damages

In a few real-life examples, we show how damages were awarded to civil lawsuit cases. In one, punitive damages were awarded and compensatory damages were not. In another, both were awarded to the plaintiff. In the final, only compensatory damages were necessary to be paid to the plaintiff.

Moore v RJ Reynolds

In the case of Moore v. R.J. Reynolds, punitive damages were awarded rather than compensatory damages.

The jury decided to deny compensatory damages for a woman who smoked for forty years and lost her larynx to throat cancer as a result. The case did, however, cost $1,000,000 in punitive damages to the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The company knew that its products were harmful to the consumer and they continued to sell them.

This doesn’t happen very often. More often than not, punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages.

Liebeck v McDonald’s

In 1992, 92-year-old, Stella Liebeck, bought a coffee from McDonald’s and was severely burned from it. The case Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurant awarded Liebeck with both compensatory and punitive damages.

The punitive damages held because the franchise knew that the coffee was hot enough to cause third-degree burns and they continued to heat it to the extreme temperature.

Vosburg v. Putney

In 1889, an 11-year-old boy purposefully nudged a 14-year-old boy in the shin with his toe. It wasn’t even with enough force that the boy was bothered by the incident.  It wasn’t until minutes later that it aggravated an old injury and began to shatter the bone in his leg.

In the case of Vosburg v. Putney, Vosburg was awarded compensatory damages. Punitive damages were not applied to the case because Putney meant no harm but he did touch another human being against their will.

If Putney hadn’t nudged Vosburg in the shin, his old injury may have completed healing and he wouldn’t have permanently lost the function of his leg.

Compensatory Damages vs Punitive Damages: Which One Do You Deserve?

If you’ve been involved in an accident that has affected your life in any major way, you have the right to be compensated.

Don’t hesitate to file a personal injury claim.

This can be really confusing if you’ve never dealt with a lawsuit before. You’re not alone!

If you need help figuring out if you should be suing for compensatory damages vs punitive damages, call us today!

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