When you’re considering filing a civil lawsuit, you may hear the term “damages” used quite often. If you’re wondering, “What are damages?” you are far from alone. Many people believe damages means damage that is done to you physically, but it is actually a legal term used to describe different types of damages.
Civil damages refers to how much money you may get in a settlement or court award (Kenton, 2020).
There are three types of damage that form the foundation of most civil lawsuits: compensatory, nominal, and punitive. An attorney can estimate how much your claim may be worth based on your damages.
Your lawyer will ask for you to bring any documentation related to your case to your first meeting. This may include:
- Hospital and doctor bills
- Paycheck stubs or other proof of income
- The bill from your emergency transportation
- Proof that you’ve had to pay housekeepers or caretakers
- Receipts from any assistive devices you’ve purchased
The more documentation you can provide, the more accurate an attorney’s estimate of your potential settlement in your personal injury case will be. If you’re involved in a legal dispute and you’re seeking a financial award, your attorney will build a case to prove the extent of the harm you suffered from the accused defendant’s actions. Your lawyer will also prove why you should receive an award for those injuries.
What Are the Two Types of Compensatory Damages?
So what are the types of damages? There are two types of compensatory damages you may be eligible for in your lawsuit: economic and non-economic.
The list of documentation above is an example of economic damages. In short, these are any costs that are related to your injury that can be demonstrated through a paper trail. These are costs that will have bills, receipts, and other documentation.
Some economic damages that are not as concrete but can be approximated through your documentation include:
- Your future lost earnings capacity
- Your future medical expenses
A medical expert may need to be brought in to give testimony as evidence to prove these future economic damages. Some states may put a cap on the amount of civil damages you can recover, but most do not.
Non-economic damages are a form of compensation that is provided to victims of injuries for losses that aren’t as concrete. This can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Damage to your reputation
- Emotional anguish
- The worsening of any existing conditions
- The loss of your sex life
- The loss of enjoyment of activities
There may not be bills or receipts that can prove an exact dollar amount non-economic damages are worth, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have monetary value. The amount of your non-economic damages will be determined based on the value of your total economic damages.
What Are Three Types of Damages Recoverable in a Lawsuit?
Now that you know what the three types of damages are, let’s go over them in more detail.
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. Depending on the specifics of your case, you may recover:
Compensatory damages are money you will receive as compensation for an injury or accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence. Even if they didn’t mean to harm you, if you wouldn’t be in this situation due to their mistake, they still have to pay. To prove that a plaintiff owes you these damages you must demonstrate that:
- They breached their duty of care toward you
- This breach of duty caused your injury or illness
- As a result, you have economic and non-economic damages
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 in a legal claim, like the amount of hardship caused, negligent or willful behavior that contributed to the losses, and if the plaintiff can tie their losses to a dollar amount.
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 of nominal damages is to show in court records that the defendant’s conduct was wrong 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.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages punish a defendant for willful, malicious, or fraudulent actions that harmed another party. The purpose of this type of damage is to:
- Dissuade the defendant from engaging in that behavior again
- Make an example of the defendant to discourage others from engaging in that behavior
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 (Hettinger, 2020). State laws also might limit the amount of punitive damages that a plaintiff may receive.
The potential to claim any or all these damages will vary depending on your case’s unique circumstances. One of our personal injury lawyers can provide perspective of how your case would hold up, given the laws regarding your situation.
For a free legal consultation, call (800) 223-5115
Pursuing Damages in the U.S. Legal System
Plaintiffs in civil lawsuits often have one of two motivations for pursuing a case: they need monetary compensation for the losses they have suffered, or they want someone to stop conduct that has harmed them or may harm them in the future.
A strong legal case against a defendant may never reach trial if you present compelling evidence of wrongdoing and the proposed damages appear reasonable. 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.
We offer consultations free of charge, and we are happy to answer any questions you have about your case. For a free legal consultation, call Pintas & Mullins injury lawyers at (800) 223-5115.
Hettinger, J. (2020, December 01). Federal judge upholds dicamba ruling but reduces damages owed to Missouri peach farmer.
Kenton, W. (2020, August 28). Civil Damages: What You Should Know.