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Punitive Damages: When and Why?

When a party is found at fault in a civil case, they must usually pay compensation to the victim. This compensation is designed to put the victim in the same position as if the injury had never occurred.

In reality, putting the pieces back together after an accident is often impossible, but awarding the victim money damages is often the only way that the law in North Carolina has to deal with victims’ losses.

There are several types of damages available and personal injury lawsuits. Personal injury lawsuits usually deal with injuries to your body. As such, you can receive compensation for any losses related to that injury.

Punitive damages are a special type of money damages that are available in very serious cases. Understanding punitive damages require reviewing other types of damages available to personal injury victims.

Special Damages

The losses that are easily quantifiable are often known as “special damages” or “economic damages.” Medical expenses often make up the largest portion of special damages. Any payment that you or your health insurance company had to make that related to the accident is compensable.

If your insurance company paid the hospital or other health care provider, your health insurance company will receive a portion of your settlement or award at trial as reimbursement for their expenses.

When your injury affects your ability to work, you can often receive compensation for the income you lost due to the injury. This includes the past and future ability to work. Special damages also include virtually any out-of-pocket expense you may have incurred because of the injury, including costs related to property damage.

General Damages

General damages (or non-economic damages) are not as easy to quantify because they are not tied to a specific monetary loss. Instead, they are designed to compensate you for emotional or physical losses, including:

  • Pain and suffering (past and future)
  • Emotional distress (anxiety, fear, nightmares, insomnia, depression, etc.)
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium

These damages vary a great deal based on the unique facts of your case.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are also available in egregious cases. Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer instead of compensating you for losses. In fact, they are not tied to any specific loss related to your injury. The most common situation where punitive damages might be available is where a drunk driver seriously injured or killed another person.

It is important to note that North Carolina caps the amount of punitive damages that personal injury victims can receive. It can be no more than three times the compensatory damages (both your special damages and general damages combined) or $250,000, whichever is higher.

Get help after an accident or injury by calling The Mcallister Law Firm. We can walk you through what types of damages may be available to you based on the unique facts of your situation.


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