The three types of damages that form the foundation of most civil lawsuits are compensatory, nominal, and punitive. In legal disputes where plaintiffs seek financial awards, they build a case to prove the extent of the harm they suffered from an accused defendant’s actions and why they should receive an award for those injuries.
According to the Legal Information Institute, damages exist to provide a remedy in the form of monetary compensation. In some situations where a plaintiff initiates a lawsuit to resolve the issue at hand, the extent of their injuries and losses cannot be undone. However, damages can also serve as a bargaining tool to bring disputes to an end before trial so that all parties can consider the issue resolved.
Pursuing Damages in the U.S. Legal System
Plaintiffs in civil lawsuits often have one of two motivations for pursuing their case:
- Monetary compensation for the injuries and losses they have suffered.
- Ordering someone to stop conduct that has caused harm in the past or will in the future.
Because arguments against a defendant may seem subjective depending on the circumstances, plaintiffs will usually benefit from having a clear objective when filing their lawsuit.
A strong legal case against a defendant may never reach trial if you present compelling evidence of wrongdoing and the proposed damages appear reasonable. In-court trials can prove costly, and the expenses can potentially outweigh the dollar amount of damages that a plaintiff seeks. However, both sides of a lawsuit can request a trial by jury so that the case proceeds to a courtroom.
Different Types of Damages
In the legal world, damages are the solution to the real-life costs and consequences of one person’s wrongdoing to another. A plaintiff must quantify their damages, usually with a dollar amount or other terms of payment. Most people consider the three types of damages when weighing their legal options are compensatory, nominal, and punitive.
The potential to claim any or all these damages will vary depending on your case’s unique circumstances. A personal injury lawyer can provide perspective of how your case would hold up, given the laws regarding your situation.
In cases where one party broke a contractual agreement or breached their duty of care, the other party may pursue compensatory damages. Breach of contract claims can extend to all industries and arrangements between people and larger entities. Meanwhile, negligence lawsuits allege that a person failed to exercise their duty not to harm another person or entity. For example, the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine describes the standard of care that physicians must provide patients in emergency rooms.
In pursuing compensatory damages, the litigation process involves determining if a contract or duty existed, and if so, which requirements the liable parties breached. Both sides in a dispute can make a case for the extent of the breaching and the consequential damages.
There are other factors to consider, like the amount of hardship caused, negligent or willful behavior that contributed to the losses, and if the plaintiff can tie losses to a dollar amount. Plaintiffs pursuing compensatory damages typically benefit from fully documented calculations for the claimed amount of money lost. However, a plaintiff also can recover non-economic damages such as pain and suffering and loss of consortium, which might be challenging to quantify.
Plaintiffs typically receive nominal damages when they establish that they suffered harm due to another party’s actions, but the court deemed the injury minimal or insignificant. In cases where plaintiffs receive nominal damages, the dollar amount awarded is often no more than a few dollars.
The purpose is to show in court records that the plaintiff won the lawsuit while concluding that no real harm was done. A court may also award nominal damages when a plaintiff cannot prove the actual value of their losses resulting from the defendant’s wrongful behavior.
In some cases, nominal damages may cover court fees that the plaintiff incurred when filing the lawsuit. The purpose of nominal damages is not to award either party in the suit a significant amount of compensation, but to show that the court considered the defendant’s conduct wrong.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages punish a defendant for willful, malicious, or fraudulent actions that harmed another party, making an example of them to discourage others from engaging in that behavior. For example, a plaintiff may seek punitive damages for exceptionally negligent conduct that caused significant property damage and severe injuries.
Not every lawsuit warrants punitive damages. While juries might award substantial punitive damages, the judge can decrease the amount of punitive damages based on the amount of compensatory damages awarded. State laws also might limit the amount of punitive damages that a plaintiff may receive.
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Pursuing Damages in a Lawsuit
If you suffered injuries or losses due to another person’s negligent or abusive behavior, you might qualify for compensation. Understand the three types of damages for any given case as you decide whether to pursue a claim. You might also find that working with a lawyer helps you determine the scope of your case. Call Pintas & Mullins Law Firm today at (800) 223-5115> for a free case review from a team member.