Q: What is the difference between punitive damages and damages for pain and suffering?
Many people confuse the concepts of damages for pain and suffering with punitive damages. There is a difference between them.
Damages for pain and suffering are intended to compensate the victim for the pain and suffering experienced, and they are a part of every personal injury case, from car accidents to dog bites to construction accidents and beyond. Damages for pain and suffering are a type of compensatory damages.
Punitive damages are damages which are assessed against the defendant for egregious misconduct and are intended to punish the defendant and to deter others from similar misconduct. These are added to the compensatory damages. Punitive damage are not available in every case, and in Illinois they are not available at all in medical malpractice cases or in wrongful death cases. Before an injured party can seek punitive damages, he must get permission from the judge to file a complaint asking for them.
Punitive damages are a major issue in drunk driving accidents because judge frequently find that drunk driving is the kind of egregious misconduct which justifies punitive damages.