When an individual files a California personal injury claim, one of the most important issues is understanding which types of financial compensation the individual may able to recover, which can vary depending on the type of claim. One type of damages award an individual may be able to recover is called “compensatory” damages.
The purpose of compensatory damages is to justly compensate the plaintiff for the loss or injury sustained, and to restore the plaintiff to his or her previous position, insofar as it is possible. Compensatory damages can include any financial compensation for “loss” or “detriment.” A plaintiff must prove that the damages were caused by the defendant’s actions and show the extent of the harm caused. Even if a plaintiff is determined to be entitled to compensatory damages, a plaintiff still has a responsibility to mitigate his or her damages to the extent possible. That means that a plaintiff will not be compensated for damages that the plaintiff could have avoided through reasonable effort or expenditure.
Another type of damages is called “exemplary” or “punitive” damages. According to California law, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and to set an example for others. In California, a plaintiff can only recover punitive damages in a tort claim and only if the plaintiff suffers an actual injury. To recover punitive damages, a plaintiff must prove “by clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant is guilty of “oppression, fraud or malice.” The idea is that in those cases, since the defendants’ actions were so reprehensible, those defendants should be punished, and others may be deterred from engaging in similar conduct in the future.