Types of damages

In most civil litigation, the plaintiff is alleging that the defendant’s conduct caused some type of injury that can only be made whole with the payment of damages (i.e., money). In most cases, there are two types of damages: compensatory and punitive. In some cases the attorneys or judge may refer to “actual damages,” which are synonymous with compensatory damages, or those damages that aim to “compensate” the injured party for his loss or injury. Punitive damages are sometimes rewarded to punish the wrongdoer.

Compensatory and punitive damages are the basic building blocks of civil litigation, but attorneys will use a range of additional descriptors to qualify these two types of damages. In a case where a breach of contract is alleged, the judge or attorneys may also use the term liquidated damages, which refers to the terms of the contract or the contractually established damages. The judge or attorneys may also refer to nominal damages meaning a very small amount. For example, a judge or jury may find that parties breached the contract but because of the circumstances the party that caused the breach may only be required to pay $1 to the other party. The opposite may also happen. In some cases, one party’s actions may be so reprehensible that a judge may order treble, or triple, damages.

In most personal injury cases, the attorneys will primarily argue about the merits of the case before they argue about the value of damages. In most personal injury cases, the jury will then be asked to identify three categories of damages: Economic damages (such as wage loss, medical expenses both past and future, and other out-of-pocket expenses); Non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life); and finally, Physical Disfigurement and Impairment.  While in Colorado, the amount of damages for non-economic damages is capped, the other categories are not.

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