Ask an Attorney: How Do Compensatory Differ from Punitive Damages?

Attorney Andrea Young at her desk.

Attorney Andrea Young

We are often asked about the difference between Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages. In a typical personal injury case, compensatory damages are the standard damages awarded. Another less commonly awarded form of damages is punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for outrageous conduct and/or deter the defendant from engaging in similar conduct again.

In order to bring a punitive damages claim, it must be shown that the defendant acted with malice. One way to prove malice is to show that the defendant acted with a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of other persons that has a great probability of causing substantial harm. Recently our office has alleged punitive damages in the following circumstances:

  • A driver drunk who was also high on fentanyl swerved into our client’s lane of travel, striking her vehicle head-on. Our client was life-flighted to the hospital and was found to have suffered a broken foot, broken leg, five broken ribs, along with breaking both wrists and hands.
  • Our client was violently assaulted by a loss prevention officer while shopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Our client was grabbed by the neck and slammed to the ground. He was then placed in a chokehold against the floor and was beaten in an attack that lasted for approximately five minutes.
  • A semi-truck driver purposefully ran a stop sign at a county road intersection and smashed into our client’s vehicle, sending the vehicle rolling several times before coming to rest on its side. Opposing counsel attempted to dismiss the punitive damages, claiming that the driver’s actions were merely negligent and that these accidents happen every day of the week.

Attorney Andrea Young successfully argued that the issue of whether the driver acted with a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others had to be decided by a jury, and the judge ruled that the punitive damages claim remains in the case.

Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC