After an accident, you might find yourself inundated with endless expenses. Naturally, because of your injuries, you are working less or not at all. So, you seek compensation to cover those medical costs, property damage, and your loss of income. In order to get compensation, you file a personal injury claim, wherein you seek damages. Damages come in two broad categories: Compensatory and punitive.
From there, compensatory damages are further broken down, while punitive damages stay relatively simple. Despite how many various forms of compensation are available to you, it is critical to understand that not all claims qualify for the same benefits. Furthermore, your case might receive more or less than a similar accident, based on the facts, evidence, and so forth.
Compensatory and punitive damages are not the same. Each is awarded separately by the judge or jury overseeing the case. When examining these forms of damages, there are two distinct differences:
The state of Illinois deploys the comparative negligence rule. This affects a person’s compensation in a personal injury claim. Under the modified comparative negligence and pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/2-1116, an injured party can recover damages only if they are 50 percent or less at fault for their injuries. If the judge or jury determines that they are 51 percent or higher, they cannot collect compensatory damages.
If a victim has any percentage of fault assigned to him or her under modified comparative fault law, that percentage will reduce compensatory damages. For example, say a victim is provided $100,000 in compensatory damages, but the courts determine him or her to be 10 percent at fault for injuries. Therefore, 10 percent of the $100,000, or $20,000, is deducted from the settlement and the victim receives $90,000. Victims might have a percentage of comparative negligence assigned if they fail to exercise reasonable care for their safety.
Sadly, many defense attorneys use comparative negligence as a defense to lower a victim’s compensation. It is important, then, that an accident victim seeks legal representation to ensure the settlement is not decreased based on a false argument from the defense.
Another defense that might lessen or eliminate compensatory damages is the “assumption of risk” theory. This means that the victim voluntarily consented to a known danger. Therefore, the defense might argue that they should not be liable for damages because an assumption of risk was present.
Compensatory damages consist of one to three possible items, including:
The loss in value of the plaintiff’s performance – a performance they have the right to expect – is assessed. This is typically seen in a breach of contract lawsuit, and not used in accident claims.
Economic damages are the direct result of the negligent act. These damages are easily calculated and refer to tangible losses that the plaintiff endures. Often, the plaintiff has bills and receipts for these costs, making it easy to prove the losses to the court.
Some forms of economic damages include, but are not limited to:
Non-economic damages are those that cover intangible costs endured by the plaintiff. These non-economic damages do not have receipts; they are usually projected by multipliers of the economic damages.
Some forms of non-economic damages might include:
Punitive damages are awarded when the judge or jury feels the defendant’s actions warrant punishment. Not all cases qualify for punitive damages, and rarely are they seen unless there was gross negligence or malicious intent. A minuscule margin of personal injury cases see punitive damages, and these are often just a few thousand dollars, while there are rare instances of million-dollar punitive damage awards.
Some infamous cases where punitive damages were awarded include:
In rare instances when punitive damages are awarded, certain factors must be present. The acts of the defense must be reprehensible, and the defendant will serve as a public punishment example.
Certain elements which the court looks for when awarding punitive damages include:
The courts do not have a specific calculation or formula for picking punitive damages. Naturally, the more harm and compensatory damages the plaintiff has, the higher the punitive award might be. Also, there are no limitations in Illinois on the maximum damages allowed in punitive form. However, the courts have struck down excessive awards. A single digit multiplier is more likely than double-digit multipliers to apply to punitive damages. However, the statute has no definition of “proportions” – thus, this leaves it to the discretion of the judge.
Typically, the punitive damages will not exceed four times the compensatory damage value. Therefore, if a plaintiff receives $100,000 in compensatory damages, the punitive damages would not exceed $400,000. Larger ratios, such as 10:1, are labeled unconstitutional.
Other factors are taken into consideration by the court when determining punitive damages. These include, but are not limited to:
High amounts of punitive damages are only awarded in special cases, such as:
After your injury, it is imperative that you speak with a personal injury attorney in Chicago. Malman Law’s team of injury advocates will help calculate what damages you are entitled to, and discuss options for the types of damages you might claim.
Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.
Years of experience: +30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2023