Montgomery, PA asked in Personal Injury for Pennsylvania

Q: If am requesting monetary Damages for future lost wages & Emotional Distress, are those Compensatory Damages?

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1 Lawyer Answer

Brian Fishman

Answered
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Licensed in Pennsylvania

A: Compensatory and punitive damages are not broken down by what they are paying for (ie. lost wages vs. emotional distress vs. medical costs). Rather, compensatory damages are all damages to make the injured party whole whereas punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant if their conduct was grossly reckless or outrageous beyond general negligence. But, lost wages are generally viewed as compensatory damages whereas emotional distress damages may be considered punitive damages if you're seeking them under a theory of intentional infliction of emotional distress. One could make the argument that payment for emotional distress, such as the need to see a psychologist following a bad car accident are compensatory damages under a theory that they are necessary medical damages as a result of the other party's simple negligence. So, it depends on the conduct of the defendant or responsible party.

In a personal injury case such as a car accident, premise liability (communally referred to as a Slip & Fall) or a malpractice action, the injured party can receive compensatory and/or punitive damages if the other party was negligent or at fault. Compensatory damages are intended to cover actual expenses or money lost related to your injury caused by the party at fault. Compensatory damages are not intended to punish the party who hurt you, rather they are intended to ensure that the responsible party pays for the additiional costs, such as medical bills, due to the accident and their negligent behavior. Compensatory damages can also include any wages that were lost as the result of the other party's negligence. If you are injured and can't work, it is the party who caused your injury's responsibility to supplement the income that you are no longer receiving because of their negligent actions.

Punitive damages can be sought in almost any lawsuit but you have to show that the responsible party's actions were so outrageous as to warrant punishment. So, compensatory damages seek to make the injured party whole whereas punitive damages seek to punish the responsible party by making them pay additional money under the theory that it will act as a deterrent for them and others not to commit the act again.

But, punitive damages are much more difficult to obtain for the injured party as they are only awarded against a person to punish them for outrageous conduct. Punitive damages serve as a penalty against the defendant and are not for the purpose of providing additional compensation to the plaintiff. Pennsylvania law presumes that a plaintiff has been made whole for his injuries by compensatory damages, so punitive damages are only awarded if the defendant's conduct is so reprehensible that further sanctions are necessary to punish or deter the defendant.

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