Compensatory damages are derived from the word "compensate," meaning "to make up for" or "to make whole." Generally, these damages can be broken up into two subcategories – actual damages and general damages. Actual damages seek to reimburse a plaintiff for out-of-pocket expenses incurred, or financial losses sustained. Actual damages typically include:
As noted, injured victims can also sue for general damages in addition to actual damages. General damages include the things that can't be precisely documented in dollars spent, including:
In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages may be awarded in certain cases. Punitive damages are not based on actual injuries sustained. Rather, they are a way to punish the defendant for intentional conduct or gross negligence – behavior that is so egregious that a civil court penalty is warranted in order to deter the defendant from committing the same act again in the future. Bell v. Helmsley, 2003 WL 1453108 (N.Y.Sup.).
Example: If an amusement park fails to inspect and repair a broken track on one of its rides, knowing of the problem and associated dangers, and severe injury or death results, the plaintiff may ask for punitive damages to penalize the park.
Nominal damages are minimal damage awards acknowledging that the plaintiff was legally wronged, while at the same time recognizing a lack of evidence establishing that the plaintiff suffered actual damages. Nominal damages are normally very small awards, and are allowed only in cases where actual injury is not required to be shown, such as with intentional torts.
Example: If you are pushed by someone in such a manner so as to be offensive, thus constituting the tort of battery, but you suffer no actual physical injury, you may be entitled to a minimal award of nominal damages.
In addition to damages, a successful plaintiff may possibly recover court costs incurred. N.Y. C.V.P. § 8101. Court costs include the cost of filing fees, process server fees, deposition transcripts, court transcriptions and translators' fees. Attorneys' fees are generally not included as part of a successful plaintiff's recovery, though there are limited circumstances where procedural rules allow for the successful plaintiff to recover attorneys' fees and expert witness fees.