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What Types of Damages are Available in Personal Injury Actions?

A plaintiff may bring a personal injury lawsuit after suffering an injury caused by another person or organization. If the plaintiff is successful, he or she is entitled to receive compensation from the negligent defendant. This type of compensation is referred to by the court as damages.[1] In Massachusetts, there are two major types of damages: actual damages and punitive damages.

Actual damages, commonly referred to as compensatory damages, are the most common type of damages that a plaintiff will recover.[2] The main purpose of actual damages is to provide injured parties for the financial and physical losses they have suffered due to their injuries. Actual damages can be further broken up into two different categories: economic and non-economic damages.

The purpose of economic damages is to make up for any financial loss the plaintiff has experienced. Economic damages will be an actual dollar amount to cover expenses, such as past and future lost wages, medical bills, and repairs. Non-economic damages are not a set dollar amount and are determined based on pain and suffering. Massachusetts places a cap of $500,000 on the amount of noneconomic damages which can be awarded to a plaintiff.[3]

Punitive damages differ from actual damages because they are meant to punish the defendant for any wrongful conduct.[4] In Massachusetts, punitive damages are only available in cases where the defendant’s gross negligence results in a person’s death. Therefore, punitive damages are only recovered when a death has occurred, and not in cases which merely involve personal injuries. A person or corporation’s actions will be considered grossly negligent if it is determined that the person acted with total disregard for human life, and those actions resulted in the death of an individual. Before punitive damages are awarded, it must be proven that the defendant acted with gross negligence. As gross negligence is a high standard to meet, it is often hard to prove, and therefore, punitive damages are rarely awarded in Massachusetts.

When facing a personal injury suit due to the misconduct of another, the damages that are awarded by the court will vary on a case by case basis. The theory behind damages is to compensate the injured plaintiff enough to try and make the plaintiff “whole” again.[5]

If you would like to learn more about being made whole as a result of damage that you’ve incurred, or if you would like to learn more about damages in a personal injury case, call us for a free consultation at 617-657-HURT (4878) or fill out our contact form here.

[1] Gomes v. Wood, 451 F.3d 1122, 1128-32 (10th Cir. 2006) (laying out different classes of damages).

[2] Weaver v. Bank of America, 59 Cal.2d 428, 437 (1963) (likening actual damages to compensatory damages).

[3] Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 231, § 60H.

[4] City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 266-67 (1981) (punitive damages are intended to punish the tortfeasor).

[5] Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 350 (1974) (damages are private fines levied by juries to punish reprehensible conduct and deter its future occurrence).

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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