What Are Damages?

by Team eLocal
Injured employee visiting lawyer for advice on insurance

Damages aren’t as negative as they sound; in a civil case, damages are the compensation you receive for your pain and suffering.

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Whether you're suing someone else or you're the defendant in the case, understanding what damages are is important before heading to court. Having an understanding of how damages work and what types there are can help you develop a legal strategy with your lawyer.

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What Are Damages in a Legal Case?

When someone files a civil case, they're looking for some type of compensation or remedy for a situation where they feel wronged. Damages are the monetary compensation that the plaintiff receives for their suffering. It goes beyond physical harm that someone might suffer. “Damages” can include economic damages, such as losing your income due to an injury, and non-economic damages, such as emotional suffering resulting from the situation. There are three main types of damages in a civil case: punitive, compensatory and general.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are meant to be a punishment when the defendant acted maliciously or willfully caused harm to the plaintiff. This type can also be used for fraudulent behaviors. The goal is to discourage the person from doing the same thing again. In some cases, the court wants to make an example of the defendant so other people won't do the same thing.

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Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages make up for someone else's neglect that causes injuries or damage, whether that person meant to harm you. You can receive compensatory damages if you can prove that the person was neglectful, which requires you to show that they had some type of duty of care toward you, which they breached, and that the breach resulted in an injury that affected you with economic or non-economic damages. Things that typically fall into this category include medical bills, damaged property and income that you lose due to an injury or accident.

General Damages

You can also seek general damages, which are related to your injury or accident but often aren't as obvious or specific. The non-economic damages fall under this category. This includes things like compensation for your pain and suffering. You can show the exact amount you had to pay in medical bills, which fall under compensatory damages, but it's more difficult to put a number on your pain and suffering.

How Do You Identify the Type of Damages?

Your lawyer will analyze your case and decide what type of damages to pursue. The details of the case impact the type of damages you can seek. For instance, gross negligence might result in punitive damages. An experienced attorney can calculate how much you should seek in damages, especially for things like your emotional distress. They can also help estimate future losses for the ongoing effects of the injury.

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