When a person files a civil suit, they may be entitled to damages. Damages include compensation or remuneration equitable to the harm mentioned in the lawsuit. However, the court may determine how much and what type of damages to award. Typically, damages are either punitive or compensatory. So, what is the difference between punitive and compensatory damages?

Brief Overview

In a civil suit, the defendant is the person or entity named as the negligent party in the lawsuit. The plaintiff is the individual who files the lawsuit. However, it is important to note that civil cases do not operate the same as a criminal case.

In a civil trial, the court makes its decision based on a preponderance of the evidence instead of relying on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A preponderance of evidence I am type of evidentiary standard that allows the court to make a determination if there is a greater than 50% chance the defendant is guilty. In other words, if there is a strong likelihood that negligence or wrongdoing occurred, the court can prosecute.

Prosecution in civil cases does not include prison time rather the court may issue a damage amount as punishment.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are less common than compensatory damages and are typically only awarded when the court believes the defendant was recklessly negligent or is guilty of egregious conduct. Based on the degree of negligence, the court will decide how much in damages to award the plaintiff. This determination is based on two primary factors:

  • The reprehensibility or degree of harm caused by the defendant’s actions
  • The amount of money necessary to deter the defendant from further negligence

Essentially, punitive damages are a financial punishment for wrongdoing. This form of punishment is typically used in medical malpractice and extreme negligence cases.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are applicable to personal injury cases. These damages are purely for economic and non-economic losses like medical bills, lost wages, legal fees, property damage, etc. Non-economic losses may include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, etc.


If you or a loved one has been harmed due to negligence on the part of an individual or entity you may be entitled to compensation. Our experienced attorneys at Smith Law Offices, LLC are proud to provide fierce representation for those harmed by recklessness and we offer a variety of legal services to support those who need it most.

Contact our attorneys at Smith Law Offices, LLC today for more information.

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