When an individual files a personal injury lawsuit against another person, company, or organization, they are usually seeking some sort of award or compensation for injuries they claim to have suffered as a result of the defendant's negligent, reckless, malicious, or illegal behavior. These awards, collectively known as damages and generally consisting of some sort of monetary compensation, are the legal system's way of addressing the wrongs done to a plaintiff.
Though legal systems around the world differ on the issue of lawsuit damages, the United States legal system breaks awards down into two major categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages.
As their name implies, compensatory damages are awards intended to directly compensate a plaintiff for his or her injuries. They are further divided into special damages and general damages.
Special damages are compensatory awards for a plaintiff's quantifiable losses (usually monetary in nature). These include compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost wages both past and future, damaged property, and economic consequences of an injury or tort. In most cases, special damages are awarded in an amount which would restore the defendant to his or her financial/economic state prior to the injury taking place.
General damages, on the other hand, are awarded to compensate plaintiffs for injuries which are usually more difficult to quantify. Examples include pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional trauma, loss of ability to enjoy life, loss of companionship or consort, and damage to reputation. Because these damages are more difficult to quantify, they can vary widely from case to case depending on the individual circumstances of each claimant.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages serve no purpose in compensating a plaintiff for his/her injuries or quantifiable losses. Instead, they are awarded as a way to deter the defendant from committing similar acts of negligence or wrongdoing in the future by “punishing" them financially.
Punitive damages are the subject of intense controversies, including the ever-prickly topic of tort reform. The publicity associated with high-profile, high-awards personal injury lawsuits have given the exaggerated impression that punitive damages are always excessive and unjust. Though it is true that some punitive damages awards have been very high, in reality, punitive damages are quite limited, in both theory and practice. The US Supreme Court has imposed several limits on punitive damages, and has suggested that even a ratio as low as 4:1 between punitive and compensatory damages could be a violation of the Constitution's due process clause.
For more information on issues surrounding personal injury lawsuits, visit the website of Chicago personal injury lawyers Friedman & Bonebrake, P. C. at http://www.attorneyillinois.net