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Types of Legal Damages

12th October 2009
By Carolyn Ria in Legal
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Compensatory damages

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:

  • Cost of rental car or substitute transportation
  • Cost to replace or repair damaged property
  • 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 a wheelchair or crutches required

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:

  • Value of medical expenses you are likely to incur in the future
  • Value of wages you are likely to lose in the future
  • Pain and suffering endured due to injuries and any subsequent mental anguish
  • Loss of consortium (benefits of a relationship)
  • Loss of opportunity
  • Disfigurement resulting from injuries
  • Permanency of injury and resulting pain and suffering

Punitive damages

In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages may be awarded in certain cases. Punitive damages are not based on actual injuries sustained; they are designed to be a deterrent or punishment for outrageously negligent behavior. The idea is that the behavior is so egregious that a civil court penalty has to be warranted in order to deter the defendant from committing the same act again in the future.

In Florida, there is a cap on the amount of punitive damages you are entitled to. Punitive damages are limited to three times the amount of compensatory damages. Fla. Stat. ยง 768.73. However, if a defendant has a specific intent to harm the claimant and the fact-finder determines that the defendant's conduct did in fact harm the claimant, there is no cap on punitive damages.

Here is an 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

Nominal damages are minimal damage awards acknowledging that the plaintiff was legally wronged, but also with the understanding that they were not actually harmed or injured in any way. 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.

Here is an example: If you are intentionally pushed by someone in a forceful and offensive manner, thus constituting the tort of battery, but you suffer no actual physical injury, you may be entitled to a minimal award of nominal damages.

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Attorneys' fees and court costs

In addition to damages, a successful plaintiff may possibly 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, but there are special circumstances where a plaintiff can negotiate to have these fees covered as part of an agreement.
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