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Damages in Illinois Lawsuits: Compensatory or Exemplary

Posted on in Personal Injury
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If you are injured as a result of another's negligence--perhaps in a car accident or via medical malpractice--then you may file a civil lawsuit seeking "damages" for your losses in the accident. Asking "What is my case worth?" is simply another way of questioning what damages are likely to be awarded either by a judge or jury after trial or via a settlement. It is impossible to predict with certainty exactly what one might recover, but an experienced attorney can explain what is reasonable based on the specifics of your case.

 Compensatory damages & exemplary damages IMAGEAt the very least, it is important to understand the two main types of damages: Compensatory and Exemplary. Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages, frequently referred to as "actual damages," includes all those losses most commonly associated with an injury. These are the costs directly associated with the accident, including the physical, mental, and emotional damage inflicted on the plaintiff. In other words, actual damages strive to make a plaintiff "whole" by repaying them in an attempt to place them in the position they were in before the accident. In Illinois accident cases, actual damages that are likely to be awarded include compensation for medical bills, property damages, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Exemplary Damages

Exemplary damages are usually called "punitive damages." These damages are different than compensatory damages in that they are not based entirely on the losses of the plaintiff. Instead, punitive damages are designed specifically to deter future misconduct by punishing the wrongdoer. A punitive damage award is given in addition to the compensatory damages.

The Illinois jury instructions on this subject explain that punitive damages should only be awarded when the defendant's conduct was fraudulent, intentional, or willful and wanton. In other words, they are only appropriate for truly egregious incidents. The civil law recognizes that there are differences between cases where a defendant simply made a mistake versus when the defendant knew harm would be caused or should have known that harm to others was likely.

In addition to Illinois rules on the subject, the U.S. Supreme Court has also issued general direction regarding when punitive damages can be awarded. Most notably, in State Farm v. Campbell, the Court explained that an award of punitive damages that is "grossly excessive" or arbitrary violates the defendant's due process rights. In general, the determination of whether or not a punitive damage award is excessive is based on a comparison with compensatory damages. In that case the Court ruled that punitive damages of $145 million in a case where there was only $1 million in compensatory damages was unconstitutional.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident and want to learn more about possible damages to recover, please contact an Illinois injury attorneys for a free consultation. We serve clients in Lombard, Bloomingdale, Joliet, St. Charles, and other nearby communities.
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