The Difference Between Punitive and Compensatory Damages In California

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In a personal injury case, you may sue the defendant for compensatory and punitive damages. But one type of damage is a lot more difficult to prove. Can you guess which one it is? Let’s do a deep dive between the difference between punitive and compensatory damages and figure out this mystery. First, let’s take a look at what exactly constitutes damages as ‘compensatory’ or ‘punitive.’

Compensatory Damages In California

Compensatory damages are meant to compensate the victim for the damages done to them. This includes any costs they may have accrued as a result of the accident, including medical expenses, car repair (especially if they’re involved in a car accident in Los Angeles with a road rage driver), lost wages, etc.

Compensatory damages can be divided into two categories:

  • Economic Damages (special damages): These damages are quantifiable, so anything that one can get a receipt for could count. For example, they may sue the defendant and get them to pay for the medical bill, as well as the overall costs to restore any accidental damages to your property. When they get involved in a car accident, it’s possible that they could acquire various injuries (traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, soft tissue injury, etc.) that may hinder their ability to work. In situations like this, they may also be entitled to be compensated for any lost wages as a result of the accident.

  • Non-economic Damages (general damages): Non-economic damages include the trauma, pain, suffering, and/or emotional distress that the victim has endured due to the accident. Unlike economic damages, this type of compensatory damage can’t be or is otherwise difficult to be quantified, and may be more difficult to prove than its counterpart. To determine the extent of the non-economic damage, the jury must use their “common sense” per the Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions.

Punitive Damages In California

While compensatory damages are meant to zero in on the accrued losses of the victims, suing for California punitive damages is meant to come after the perpetrators of the wrongdoings themselves. The idea comes from the root word of punitive (punity), meaning, to punish. What constitutes as such is outlined in California Civil Code Section 3294 (CIV § 3294). In order for the defendant to be subjected to punitive damage fines, the plaintiff must prove that they acted recklessly or maliciously with clear and convincing evidence. Three factors come into play in proving the extent and validity of punitive damages:

  • Malice

  • Oppression

  • Fraud

Difference Between Punitive and Compensatory Damages

Almost every personal injury case can sue for compensatory damages, but not a lot can for punitive damages. This is because punitive damages are harder to prove than its counterpart. For one, a lot of the things that fall under compensatory damages are quantifiable and can easily be documented. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are subject to broad definitions of “malice,” “oppression,” and “fraud,” which make it hard for the jury to decide whether the defendant is subject to punitive damage fines. Moreover, the plaintiff has to be injured in order to sue for punitive damages while this isn’t necessarily the case for compensatory damage cases.

About Omega Law Group

If you have incurred a personal injury and suspect yourself entitled compensation for punitive damages, you need to contact Omega Law Group. Our awards and excellent testimonials are a result of our ability to empathize and attend to the needs of our clients. Here at Omega Law Group, you will come first. If you or a loved one is afflicted with an accident, reach out to our team. Visit our Contact Us page or call us at (310) 504-1852.

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