Damages, the compensation awarded in personal injury law cases, are broken up into two main groups. These are compensatory and punitive damages. Personal injury attorneys have to deal with the issues related to the different types of damages, and it can be helpful for clients to understand those distinctions so let's take a look.
The goal of compensatory damages is to get things back to as close to even as possible. Personal injury lawyers understand that there's rarely a way for their clients' lives to get back to 100% of what they previously were. Consequently, the goal is to make up the difference.
A classic example is the award of damages to cover medical expenses. This means paying off the bills incurred in treating injuries, and it also covers expenses related to recovery, such as physical therapy.
Loss of earnings is another category of compensatory damages. Personal attorneys help their clients show how much money they've lost due to being hurt. They also present claims for the loss of future earning potential.
Pain and suffering are compensated, too. This is because American personal injury law accounts for the fact that injuries lead to losses in terms of agony, discomfort, and non-functionality.
Some states allow awards of damages for emotional distress. If someone has been traumatized by an event so badly that they can no longer deal with life normally, that may be compensable, too.
Loss of enjoyment is a form of compensation meant to address losing the benefits of simply living your life. If a person loses a hand and can no longer do woodworking, for example, the law appreciates that they should be compensated for that loss.
Finally, the loss of consortium covers the inability to be intimate with your spouse. It is understood that the decrease in the quality of your relationship due to an injury should be compensated.
These are damages intended to go beyond just making things right. The goal with punitive damages is to discourage certain forms of extreme behavior by hitting at-fault parties' bank accounts.
Personal injury lawyers aren't always going to seek punitive damages. For example, it's hard to prove that extreme conduct occurred in a typical slip-and-fall case.
Punitive damages are reserved for situations where at-fault parties should have known and done better. If an apartment building supervisor repeatedly refused to fix a rail because it was too expensive, someone injured using the stairs might seek punitive damages to make a point about ignoring problems.