If you've been the victim of an accident, it's sometimes tempting to want to use the personal injury system to get back at whoever harmed you and to achieve some sense of justice. That isn't what justice in personal injury law is about, though. Take a look at how the system sees the question of justice when someone has been personally and wrongfully harmed by another's actions or neglect.
Getting Back to Even
The fundamental goal of every personal injury case is to try to even out the harm that has occurred. Consider what happens if someone breaks an arm due to a poorly maintained set of stairs in a commercial building. The victim files a claim based on the immediate medical costs of the incident and long-term losses. If the claim goes through or they win a lawsuit, the victim likely will collect money to cover medical bills, lost wages, future medical expenses, and pain and suffering.
Notably, what it means to get back to even varies among cases. One person might have a simple fracture in their arm after a fall and heal quickly. Maybe they recover $50,000 in damages when everything is over. Another person ends up with permanent damage due to complex fractures and nerve damage in the wrist. If they need their hand for their profession, this could drive the recovery of damages into the hundreds of thousands or even millions.
Yes, the law understands that there may not be a real chance to get back to where things started. That's why the long-term loss of earning potential in the second hypothetical might shift the settlement amount to a much higher figure. However, the goal is to try to zero out as much of the defendant's actions or negligence as possible.
Punitive Damages Are Rare
It's worth noting that punitive damages almost never appear in settlements. Insurers and defendants don't punish themselves.
Punitive damages are nearly unique to jury judgments, and they serve as a way for the jurors to reflect society's anger at extreme misconduct and punish defendants. For example, a jury might award punitive damages against a business that repeatedly refused to fix a problem even after several people were hurt.
Generally, punitive damages are reserved for the worst of the worst, not just typical accidents. They provide justice for society and punish defendants who have gone out of their ways to do the wrong things rather than the right ones.
Contact a personal injury lawyer to learn more.