Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages: What’s the Difference?

By Pyle Law, Reviewed by E. THomas Pyle January 19 2023 11:31 pm

Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages: What’s the Difference?

By Pyle Law, Reviewed by E. THomas Pyle January 19 2023 11:31 pm
Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages: What’s the Difference?

Compensatory damages, in a nutshell, are awards made to a plaintiff in a civil tort case. In general, these personal injury damages are intended to make the victim of a wrongful act “whole” again—to place them in the position they had been in prior to the loss or injury they incurred from another party’s negligence.

Punitive damages, on the other hand, go beyond mere compensation for negligence. Instead, they are included as an extra penalty – a penalty that punishes a defendant so the same mistakes will not continue to be made.

Basically, damages are a type of legal compensation granted to an aggrieved and injured party when they win a civil lawsuit. Therefore, the two main categories of damages, compensatory and punitive, are awarded for different reasons. If you believe you deserve compensation for an injury, speak with a personal injury lawyer in Kansas right away.

Types of Compensatory Damages

To be more specific, compensatory damages are generally awarded to the plaintiff to make up for the losses they suffered due to a wrong. This wrong comes about from a defendant’s careless disregard or recklessness.

Compensatory damages cover two types of monetary losses- economic damages and non-economic types of awards.

Economic Damages

Compensatory damages that are defined as economic losses include the following:

  • Medical expenses – or past, present, and future costs for medical recovery and rehabilitation
  • Loss of income or benefits
  • Funeral or burial costs (in wrongful death cases)

Economic damages are tangible expenses and therefore are easily calculated. You can figure out the costs based on medical bills, receipts, and pay stubs.


Non-Economic Damages

Compensatory damages that cover non-economic losses are more subjective and cover intangible costs. These expenses may include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or, in wrongful death cases, losses related to a victim’s guidance or care.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are awarded to a victim or to their loved ones (in cases of wrongful death) if the defendant committed an egregious act. These damages are designed to pay reparations to claimants.

Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant so that any extreme behavior is not repeated.

If a defendant’s actions go beyond the scope of ordinary negligence, then the court may feel they should be disciplined accordingly.

Examples of Cases Where Punitive Damages are Awarded

Cases that may award punitive damages include those that involve drunk driving or medical malpractice.

Punitive damages may also be awarded in civil assault cases that follow a criminal conviction or arrest for assault. However, a civil tort filed for assault is different from filing a personal injury claim. That is because this type of case is based on the tortfeasor’s intent to do you harm.

Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages

Personal injury/negligence claims happen because of the defendant’s inattention, not because they purposely meant to injure the victim.

While both compensatory and punitive damages are awarded in civil tort cases, again, their purposes differ significantly. Compensatory damages financially reimburse a plaintiff for their losses for a defendant’s wrongful and negligent conduct, while punitive damages further penalize the defendant.

The Elements of Negligence

To ensure you receive compensatory damages in a personal injury lawsuit, you need to show the four elements of negligence. Without this proof, you will not be awarded compensation. Negligence is based on the following elements:

  • The plaintiff had a duty – an obligation to make sure the victim did not get injured
  • This duty was breached
  • The breach of duty caused an injury
  • An injury occurred resulting in damages

When these elements are satisfied, you can put a case together and submit a personal injury claim. Depending on the case, you can ask for specific damages to cover the losses related to your case.

Speak to a Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Have you been injured because of someone’s negligence? If so, you need to consult with a personal injury lawyer right away. To begin the process, contact your legal advocate in Kansas, Pyle Law. Call (620) 241-9000 immediately or send us a message online. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can get the financial relief you need.

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Pyle Law was founded in 1999 with a commitment to fewer clients and better service. We believe that each and every client is important and everyone is entitled to justice and equal protection under our laws. We make every case a priority and are committed to keeping each client informed about the status of their case. We do not guarantee results, but we do guarantee effort.


This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney E. Thomas Pyle who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a practicing personal injury trial attorney.