When you have suffered because of another's carelessness, you may encounter the term "damages." This term is used describe several aspects of a personal injury claim, and can refer to the financial compensation aspect or the actual harm done. For example, you might say that you are entitled to "money damages of $100,000." Alternately, you might say that your life was affected to such a degree by the accident that you are entitled to sue for "loss of enjoyment of life" damages. It is this second reference that will be addressed here, particularly the difference between compensatory damages and punitive damages.
This term is most easily understood if you learn that compensation and compensatory are the same thing. This term covers specific, verifiable losses, such as property, lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, and more.
Many personal injury cases involve compensatory damages almost exclusively, primarily those that deal with car accidents, slip and falls, and negligence. In most cases, compensatory damages are awarded with the goal of making the victim "whole" again. When it comes to compensatory damages, the amounts are usually calculated using special formulas. For example, for a car accident, the damages could be calculated by taking the dollar amount of medical bills and multiplying that amount by a factor that corresponds with the seriousness of the accident. That number is then added to other damages, such as automobile repair or replacement, lost wages, and more. It should be noted that while any offer from the insurance company will be based on these calculations, you have the option to negotiate for more if necessary.
This term is also somewhat self-explanatory, since these damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer. Not all personal injury cases will call for this type of damage; only the most egregious and serious cases of negligence will involve punitive damages. The main purpose of punitive damages is to punish and to make an example of wrong-doing, with the goal of bringing about changes. This type of damage is sometimes connected to criminal charges or to mass torts (class-action suits). For example, a drunk driver that caused you harm could earn punitive damages in a civil trial, as well as criminal punishments. Another common use of punitive damages involves consumer safety, such as exploding air bags or harmful drugs.
Your case may be one that qualifies for both of these types of damages. Speak to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible to get justice and compensation for your injuries.