Compensatory vs. punitive damages: What’s the difference?

time to read: 3 minutes

In Florida law, understanding the distinction between compensatory and punitive damages is crucial for anyone navigating the legal system, particularly in personal injury cases. This differentiation is not merely academic; it has significant implications for how damages are calculated and awarded and what they are intended to achieve in the aftermath of a legal dispute or injury.

Keep reading for more on compensatory vs. punitive damages, then contact an Orlando personal injury lawyer to get started on your case.

Women managing debt and expenses holding their wallet but have no money to pay. Compensatory vs. punitive damages

Compensatory damages: The foundation of injury claims

Compensatory (actual) damages are the cornerstone of most personal injury claims in Orlando. Their primary purpose is to make the plaintiff “whole” again after suffering harm due to another’s negligence or intentional misconduct. These damages are intended to cover the tangible and intangible losses the plaintiff has incurred or will incur due to the injury.

Types of compensatory damages

Economic damages

These are quantifiable financial losses resulting from the injury, including medical expenses, lost wages, rehabilitation costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses.

Non-economic damages

These encompass the more subjective, non-monetary aspects of an injury, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium or companionship.

Florida law allows for the recovery of both types of compensatory damages, with the aim of restoring the injured party to the position they were in before the injury occurred. The calculation of these damages is based on the evidence presented, including bills, employment records, and testimony regarding the impact of the injury on the plaintiff’s life.

Punitive damages: Penalizing wrongful conduct

Punitive (exemplary) damages, by contrast, serve a different purpose. Rather than compensating the plaintiff for losses, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for particularly egregious or malicious conduct and to deter similar conduct in the future. Under Florida law, punitive damages are not awarded in every case but are reserved for situations where the defendant’s actions were especially reckless, intentional, or grossly negligent.

Legal standards for punitive damages in Orlando

  • The plaintiff must provide clear and convincing evidence that the defendant engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence.
  • Florida statutes cap punitive damages at three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $500,000, whichever is greater, although there are exceptions for certain types of conduct.
  • The decision to award punitive damages and their amount is at the discretion of the jury (or the judge in a bench trial), within the guidelines set by Florida law.

Key differences and their implications

The fundamental difference between compensatory and punitive damages lies in their purpose: compensatory damages aim to reimburse the plaintiff, while punitive damages aim to penalize the defendant. This distinction has several implications for personal injury cases in Orlando.


Not all cases are eligible for punitive damages. The plaintiff’s attorney must seek the court’s permission to pursue punitive damages, typically after the discovery phase has provided evidence of egregious conduct by the defendant.

Proving the case

The burden of proof is higher for punitive damages. While compensatory damages require a preponderance of the evidence, punitive damages require clear and convincing evidence of the defendant’s wrongful conduct.

Insurance coverage

Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are often not covered by insurance policies, meaning that defendants may have to pay these damages out of pocket.

DWK Law will work to recover full compensation

Compensatory damages provide necessary financial relief to those harmed, while punitive damages serve as a powerful tool for justice, punishing wrongful actions, and deterring future misconduct. Both damages are critical in ensuring fairness and accountability in the legal process.

Call DWK Law at (833) 243-9529 when you’re ready to start your case.

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