Damages This term refers to the monetary amount awarded to a Plaintiff if a Defendant is found to be negligent and at fault for the Plaintiff’s injuries. There are at least three broad categories of damages, but some jurisdictions break damages down in a different way. Check your jurisdiction.
Compensatory Damages This type of damages is designed to compensate the victim for losses caused by the Defendant’s negligence. The purpose of compensatory damages is to place the Plaintiff in the condition he or she was in prior to the injury. When it is not possible to put the Plaintiff back in his or her original condition (the Plaintiff cannot be “made whole”), compensatory damages are designed to compensate the victim for the change in condition.
PUNITIVE DAMAGES Punitive damages are awarded to punish a Defendant for bad behavior and to discourage similar behavior by the Defendant or others in the future. These damages can be very large, depending on the message the jury wishes to send the Defendant. Punitive damages are relatively rare in negligence cases because the Defendant’s actions were caused by inattention rather than by malice.
NOMINAL DAMAGES A jury will award nominal damages when the Plaintiff has received a legal injury, but the jury does not think that a large payment is either warranted or justified. In such cases, the jury may award the Plaintiff $1 to show that, although the Plaintiff presented a technically proficient case, the jury thinks the Plaintiff’s actual injuries are nonexistent. Nominal damages are not usually seen in negligence cases because the Plaintiff must prove loss as a part of the elements of negligence.
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