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The legal term “negligence damages” refers to the payment of money from a negligent party to an injured party as compensation for the injured party’s losses. If a person is injured because of the negligent conduct of another, there are two categories of negligence damages from which he may be entitled to recover. These are compensatory damages — also referred to as actual damages — and punitive, or exemplary, damages.
Compensatory damages are designed to provide restitution for the harm caused to the innocent party. The intent is to return the innocent party, as close as possible, to the position he was in before he was injured by someone’s negligence. These are negligence damages connected to and the apparent result of the injury, or they may simply be implied by the law. There are two types of compensatory damages: special damages and general damages.
Special damages allow a person to recover the out-of-pocket expenses he incurred as a result of his injury. These damages include past and future medical bills and lost wages. Special damages may also include the repair or replacement of any property, including a car, damaged by the negligent party.
General damages involve the non-financial aspects of one’s injury. These damages may include mental or physical pain and suffering, loss of a family member or loved one, and loss of the ability to live as one had before the injury. These are difficult damages to measure and to build a case for, so it is best to pursue them with the assistance of a negligence lawyer. General damages also include hedonic damages that represent the loss of the ability to enjoy one’s life. This highly subjective form of damages, being even more difficult to measure, is not available in all states in the United States.
Punitive or exemplary damages may be awarded if the negligent party’s conduct was reckless, wanton, or malicious in nature. For example, punitive damages may be awarded against a drunk driver who causes a serious accident. By awarding punitive damages, the jury expresses its moral condemnation of the negligent party. This being said, punitive damages are not meant to devastate the negligent party. They are designed to punish the negligent party, specifically deter the negligent party from repeating this conduct, and generally deter others from engaging in similar conduct.
Absent evidence of a physical injury or property damage by the negligent party, there is no award of negligence damages. If the injured party is also at fault, negligence damages may be reduced proportionately. This is called comparative negligence. It is again best to retain a negligence lawyer who can help prove the case for damages and address any defenses such as comparative negligence.