When civil lawsuits are brought to courts, the party filing the lawsuit usually seeks an award of damages against the person being sued. There are several options for damages a judge and jury may consider if a case is decided in favor of a plaintiff.
Compensatory damages are typically sought in personal injury or property damage suits. The person filing the suit may ask for compensation for a variety of issues, such as lost income, property repairs and medical care. Compensatory damages seek an amount for actual losses.
General damages are often sought in conjunction with compensatory claims. General damages do not involve any direct financial loss by a plaintiff; examples of general damages can include mental anguish, pain and suffering, loss of consortium with a spouse or loss of the use of a piece of property. They also may be sought for anticipated future loss of earning power.
Punitive damages, as the name implies, are meant to punish a defendant. They are sought in cases where a plaintiff claims negligence or misconduct on the part of the defendant. Punitive damage awards can often far exceed compensatory damages. Many noted cases have awarded millions of dollars, particularly when the suit is filed against a large corporation. Such awards, however, often are successfully appealed and the awards cut significantly.
At the opposite end of financial awards from punitive amounts are those for nominal damages. These generally come when a defendant is found guilty but only a small amount is awarded because the damage done to the plaintiff was slight.
Filing a suit can be an expensive proposition, with a variety of fees assessed to plaintiffs for legal steps such as filing and processing, court transcripts and depositions. Often, the person filing the suit will ask that the defendant be ordered to pay for court costs associated with the suit. The plaintiff also may request that attorney fees be paid by the party being sued as well.