Compensatory damages are derived from the word "compensate," meaning "to make up for" or "to make whole". Generally, these damages can be broken up into two sub-categories – actual damages and general damages. Actual damages seek to reimburse a plaintiff for out-of-pocket expenses incurred, or financial losses sustained. Actual damages typically include:
- Medical and hospitalization bills incurred to treat your injuries
- Wages lost due to work missed while you recuperate
- Costs of household or nursing help during recovery, including costs of wheelchair or crutches required
- Cost of rental car or substitute transportation
- Cost to replace or repair damaged property
As noted, injured victims can also sue for general damages in addition to actual damages. General damages include the things that can't be precisely documented in dollars spent, including:
- Pain and suffering endured due to injuries and any subsequent mental anguish
- Disfigurement resulting from injuries
- Value of medical expenses you are likely to incur in the future
- Value of wages you are likely to lose in the future
- Permanency of injury and resulting pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium (benefits of a relationship)
- Loss of opportunity
In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages may be awarded in certain cases. Punitive damages are not based on actual injuries sustained. Rather, they are a way to punish the defendant for intentional conduct or gross negligence - behavior that is so egregious that a civil court penalty is warranted in order to deter the defendant from committing the same act again in the future.
Example: If an amusement park fails to inspect and repair a broken track on one of its rides, knowing of the problem and associated dangers, and severe injury or death results, the plaintiff may ask for hefty punitive damages to penalize the park.
Nominal damages are minimal damage awards acknowledging that the plaintiff was legally wronged, while at the same time recognizing a lack of evidence establishing that the plaintiff suffered actual damages. Nominal damages are normally very small awards, and are allowed only in cases where actual injury is not required to be shown, such as with intentional torts.
Example: If you are pushed by someone in such a manner so as to be offensive, thus constituting the tort of battery, but you suffer no actual physical injury, you may be entitled to a minimal award of nominal damages.
Attorneys' fees and court costs
In addition to damages, a successful plaintiff is also able to recover court costs incurred. Court costs include the cost of filing fees, process server fees, deposition transcripts, court transcriptions and translators. Attorneys' fees are generally not included as part of a successful plaintiff’s recovery, though there are limited circumstances where procedural rules allow for the successful plaintiff to recover attorney’s fees and expert witness fees.