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Litigation Blog.
The seasoned lawyers and litigators at The Rubinstein Law Firm are here to share their insights with you.

Actual damages vs punitive damages

When civil litigation begins, the plaintiff may request different types of damages. The Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute notes that these usually include compensatory and nominal damages, along with punitive damages as well.

With so many different types of damages available, plaintiffs may become confused when it comes to actual damage compared to punitive awards, but with a bit of preparation, they can become better prepared to face their opponents in court.

Actual damages

Calculating the dollar amount of actual damages one might seek as a plaintiff has a direct correlation to the value of the actual loss one suffered. For example, those involved in a car accident that they believe the defendant caused may sue for the total value of their vehicle if an insurance company deems it a total loss. Actual damage amounts can also include a variety of other losses, including:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical expenses
  • The expense of future medical treatment for long-term injuries

A court may base the dollar amount of actual damages on the current value of any destroyed property, such as a vehicle.

Punitive damages

Unlike actual damages, courts may award punitive damages if the party who caused them were especially negligent in their actions. This may include intoxicated drivers who got behind the wheel anyway, which resulted in a serious auto accident. Recklessness and intent to harm may also fall under the umbrella of punitive damages.

A plaintiff must prove his or her case to win any type of damage award. Punitive damages are typically more difficult to substantiate, and cases involving such awards may take longer to settle.