What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages come in the form of money awarded to a personal injury victim after they experienced some kind of loss after an accident. The compensatory damages are awarded to the plaintiff in a civil court case to remedy the neglectful actions that they experienced because of another’s negligence. The person who caused the plaintiff harm in some way is required to atone for their neglectful actions after the judge and jury decide how much they owe.

General and Actual Damages 

There are two main types of compensatory damages called general and actual damages. Actual damages are based upon lost amounts and are estimated based on adding up the total losses. For example, medical bills are a form of actual damages because the wounds that a plaintiff experiences have to be medically treated. In this case, rehabilitation expenses, prescription medicine, physical therapy, imaging scans, surgery, bandages, and other medical services can be considered actual damages. Property damage can also be treated as actual damages because the property destroyed by another’s negligence can be replaced or repaired.

Additionally, wage loss is another form of actual damage that occurs when the victim misses time from work because of their injuries. Missed wages from the past and future can be included in the compensatory damages because this reflects all of the income that went missing while the plaintiff was recovering from their injuries away from their job.  

What Compensatory Damages Represent

The general compensatory damages don’t represent items lost and are based upon damages that are estimated based on how severe a personal injury is. For example, pain and suffering are a form of actual damage and refer to the emotional turmoil a victim experienced because of their injuries due to the defendant’s neglectful behavior. The plaintiff may be struggling with depression because they cannot move without feeling pain because of their injuries. They may also be feeling shame, embarrassment, and other emotions because of another’s neglectful actions. General compensatory damages differ from punitive and treble damages. However, they are similar in that they are based on a personal injury case's circumstances and not necessarily on actual damages. 

To receive compensatory damages, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove how their injuries were caused by the defendant using reliable evidence. All the actual and general damages must also be brought to light so that the judge is aware of all of the plaintiff’s struggles. The judge and jury review the evidence and factors surrounding the case to determine whether the plaintiff is owed damages. They will also use the estimate created by the attorney and include their own decisions on how much in compensatory damages the plaintiff is owed. Their job is to listen to both sides of the story and correct the defendant's mistakes by requiring them to pay the plaintiff damages. Once a decision has been made in civil court, the judge enforces the judgment, ensuring that the plaintiff is paid accordingly.