Legal Damanges Defined: Compensatory, Punitive & Statutory

Gavel with stacks of money on sounding block

Understanding the available relief to you as a result of winning a law suit is an important factor in deciding whether to pursue a case or not. If the actual damages you have suffered are relatively small, it is more than likely not worth the time, effort, or money to pursue a case. However, sometimes you may think that the damage you have suffered won’t result in much monetary compensation, but because of the types of damages that can be awarded the case may in fact be a worthwhile endeavor.

The various types of legal damages are defined and explained below:

Actual or Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages and actual damages are synonymous and are designed to restore an individual (at least monetarily) to their original starting position before any wrong was done onto them. Compensatory damages can and often do include lost wages, medical expenses, lost tuition, emotional distress, and any other expense or injury suffered by the Plaintiff.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages or exemplary damages, on the other hand, are designed to punish the wrongdoer for an egregious behavior. In order for a court to award punitive damages, the behavior done by the wrongdoer must be particularly wanton and/or willful. Courts often do not award punitive damages. Further, the amount that can be awarded in punitive damages was limited by the Supreme Court in State Farm v. Campbell and thus cannot exceed 10 times the amount awarded in compensatory damages. State Farm Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell 538 U.S. 408 (2003).

Statutory Damages

Certain statutes contain provisions that a violation of the statute can result in the awarding of statutory damages to an injured party.

Below is an example:

A mother brings her child over to a friend’s house. The house has a pool but no safety fence was ever installed around the pool as required by Florida law. The child falls into the pool and drowns. The mother brings a lawsuit against the friend because of the friend’s negligence, against the pool builder for negligently failing to install the fence, and against the inspector for approving the pool. The mother wins the lawsuit. The court here will most likely award the mother compensatory damages for any emotional distress, medical expenses, lost wages, and possibly for funeral expenses. No statutory damages will be awarded as the law requiring a safety fence, Florida Statute §515.29 (2014), does not contain a provision for statutory damages. The court could potentially award punitive damages, however, it will most likely not as the behavior of the friend, pool builder, and inspector do not appear to be outrageous nor wanton.

If you feel you’ve been wronged and are entitled to relief, contact Donaldson & Weston today and let us evaluate your case to determine the extent of your damages and what compensation you may be entitled to recover.