In a legal sense, damages are an award that is paid to an individual in order to compensate them for a loss or personal injury. At common law, which is the law developed by judges through decisions by courts and other tribunals, damages are broken up into two categories, compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages, or what are known as “actual” damages, are paid to compensate a plaintiff for a loss, injury, or harm suffered as a result of another’s negligence. Generally speaking, compensatory damages are intended to pay a person back after they are injured.
Compensatory damages generally include the monetary amount necessary to replace what was lost in the claimant’s injury – And nothing more than that point of loss. Included in compensatory damages is a broad range of losses, such as economic loss (property damages, medical expenses, loss of earnings, breach of contract, etc.), and general damages, which includes the noneconomic damages suffered by a claimant. Noneconomic damage awards may include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and defamation. Each of these individual pieces of recovery are compiled together to form what we know as compensatory damages.
In Arkansas, compensatory damages are defined in the 2010 Arkansas Code Title 16 – Practice, Procedure, And Courts § 16-55-212 – Compensatory Damages. It reads:
(a) Section 16-55-201 et seq. and 16-114-206(a), 16-114-208(a), 16-114-208(c)(1), 16-114-209, and 16-114-210 — 16-114-212 do not limit compensatory damages.
(b) Any evidence of damages for the costs of any necessary medical care, treatment, or services received shall include only those costs actually paid by or on behalf of the plaintiff or which remain unpaid and for which the plaintiff or any third party shall be legally responsible.
With this statute, any damages that result from a defendant’s negligent behavior may be included in a compensatory damages finding. Here’s a hypothetical example of what might go into compensatory damages:
Let’s say you decide to take your family to a water park in Arkadelphia, AR. While you’re out having a great time, you decide to take on the giant waterslide. After you finally get to the front of the line and begin to climb up the last few steps, you slip and break your leg.
After a successful trial, the jury awards damages to you as a result of the water park’s negligence. These damages are what will compensate you for the defendant’s wrongdoing. The compensatory damages in this case may include medical bills for your broken leg, such as physical therapy or surgery. Compensatory damages might also include lost wages if you have to miss time from work as a result of your leg injury. If you present evidence that your broken leg led to severe mental anguish, your compensatory damages award may include pain and suffering. What your compensatory damages recovery will not include is punitive damages. With punitive damages, we have a much more different and tenuous story.
What Do Punitive Damages Include?
In Arkansas, punitive damages is governed by § 16-55-206 of the 2010 Arkansas code. It states:
In order to recover punitive damages from a defendant, a plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant is liable for compensatory damages and that either or both of the following aggravating factors were present and related to the injury for which compensatory damages were awarded:
(1) The defendant knew or ought to have known, in light of the surrounding circumstances, that his or her conduct would naturally and probably result in injury or damage and that he or she continued the conduct with malice or in reckless disregard of the consequences, from which malice may be inferred; or
(2) The defendant intentionally pursued a course of conduct for the purpose of causing injury or damage.
Punitive damages, in the simplest of contexts, are damages exceeding actual damages and awarded to punish the wrongdoer. Going back to our hypothetical, an example of punitive damages would be if the water park employee’s intentional or reckless act resulted in your broken leg.
Punitive damages, unlike compensatory damages, at one point had a statutorily mandated cap. This is on par with other states that have caps on punitive damages. However, in 2011, the Supreme Court of Arkansas ruled that a statutory cap on punitive damages was unconstitutional, and that a jury award for punitive damages can only be avoided if it is deemed grossly excessive.
If you or a loved one has been hurt by the negligence or careless actions of another party, you do not have to suffer with the consequences on your own. You may be able to seek compensatory damages. To speak with an experienced Fayetteville AR personal injury lawyer, call the Law Practice of Ken Kieklak at (479) 316-0438, or contact us online.