The word “compensate” means “to offset an error or undesirable effect”. Compensatory damages, therefore, are meant to make up for an injury sustained by an individual. There are two basic types of compensatory damages: actual and general. Actual damages reimburse an individual for funds paid out-of-pocket for medical treatments, lost wages, substitute transportation, property replacement or repair, and rehabilitation. An accident victim can also sue for general damages, which include estimates of loss not involving actual monetary expenditure. Mental anguish, disfigurement, future medical expenses, future lost wages, long-term pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of opportunity are all examples of general damages.
Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant for acts of gross negligence or intentional misconduct that cause personal injury to the plaintiff. They are not calculated by the extent of the actual injury, but rather are meant to prevent the defendant or others in similar situations from allowing or causing the same sort of accident to happen in the future. For example, if a person intentionally runs an automobile into a pedestrian, punitive damages may be appropriate.
In a case where the evidence of actual damages is slight, the courts may still choose to award the plaintiff a small sum of money to acknowledge that he or she was legally wronged by the defendant. These nominal damages may only be sought in intentional tort cases where a physical injury to the plaintiff is not required for a defendant to be found guilty. If the tort committed is battery, for example, the defendant may indeed have shoved the plaintiff in an offensive manner but without causing physical injury. The plaintiff may then be awarded a minimal amount of nominal damages.
Court Costs and Attorney’s Fees
If a personal injury case is settled in favor of the plaintiff, he or she may also have recourse to recover some of the expenses of taking the case to court. These court costs would include filing and process server fees, obtaining deposition and court transcripts, and payment to translators. There are some instances in which a plaintiff may also be able to recover attorney and expert witness fees, but this is not as common.