Under Pennsylvania law, there are several types of damages that a plaintiff may be awarded depending on the situation, but most often the damages break down into either compensatory damages or punitive damages. Knowing the difference between the two is key to being able to approximate how much of a recovery you may receive.
Compensatory damages, also called actual damages, are damages that are recoverable for the sole purpose of “making the plaintiff whole”. For example, if someone negligently crashes into your car while driving, causing injuries to yourself and damage to your car, the compensatory damages you can receive are the cost of past and future medical treatment and the cost to fix your car or the value of the car, if the cost to fix is close to the value. In addition, you may recover for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and lost future earnings.
There are other types of compensatory damages as well, including treble damages (statute provides that plaintiff receives triple the actual damages), liquidated damages (terms in a contract dictate the amount of damages if a party breaches), or nominal damages (plaintiff cannot prove to a reasonable degree of certainty any damages he or she sustained, so the damages recoverable will usually be $1 or the cost to bring the suit).
Punitive damages, unlike compensatory damages, exist to punish the defendant for willful, wanton, or malicious behavior that society wants to deter. Punitive damages are also sometimes called “exemplary damages” for this reason, in that they make an example out of the defendant. Punitive damages are even recoverable in the absence of any significant actual damages if the defendant’s act was particularly heinous or malicious.
In a jury trial, damages are calculated by the jury. However, damages awards that are patently disproportionate to the actual damages may be reviewed and modified by the judge in a process called remittitur or additur. Remittitur is when the jury awards damages that are clearly excessive and the judge gives the defendant the opportunity to accept a decreased amount or have a new trial; additur is when the jury awards damages that are clearly inadequate and the judge gives the plaintiff the opportunity to get an increased amount or have a new trial.
Calculating the damages you may receive is far from a perfect science and it takes a knowledgeable and skilled attorney to get the highest recovery possible. To speak to one of our experienced Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers, contact Fairlie & Lippy today.