What are Compensatory Damages?
Compensatory damages are awards designed to compensate a victim to make him/her whole again. It is an amount that is rightfully owed to a person for some harm. For example, an automobile collision caused by a drunk driver may result in a person being ordered to pay compensatory damages to the person they struck. These damages could include the cost to repair the vehicle, the cost of medical bills, time off of work or compensation for pain and suffering. The victim generally should not profit from compensatory damages. Punitive damages, however, are meant to act in a completely different manner.
In some cases, guilty parties are required to pay hefty punitive damages. This money is not designed solely to compensate the victim. Instead, it is designed to penalize the guilty party and to persuade him not to act in the same manner in the future. In some instances, the victim may only receive a portion of the money that is ordered to be paid. It is common, however, for victims who receive punitive damages to receive sums in excess of the amount their provable claims.
Intentional torts may be complex cases to prove and as such most cases are settled outside of court. Because of the egregious behavior of some defendants, however, some that do go to trial will end up with large verdicts for punitive damages on top of usually lesser compensatory damages.