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The Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages

If you are convicted of a minor crime in California, such as property damage, the chances are you will be required to pay back damages. This amount depends on what you are in trouble for, as well as any additional amount the plaintiff is seeking against you or what the judge feels is appropriate retribution. Damages awarded to the plaintiff often take place in civil court, but they may apply to you as well in a criminal case. At the Law Offices of Matthew C. Bishop, Inc., we know that it can be helpful to understand what compensatory and punitive damages are.

Compensatory damages are primarily a civil matter. If you trespassed on someone’s property and accidentally damaged a fence, the property owner may pursue charges against you to pay him or her back for repairs on the fence. Compensatory damages can also cover someone’s medical costs for a personal injury.

Punitive damages are awarded by a judge with the purpose of sending a message to society, disciplining you for the alleged wrongdoing, and discouraging you from repeating the behavior that got you in trouble in the first place. This differs from any fine or jail sentence you might receive for a criminal conviction. Punitive damages are often a consequence of reckless or criminal charges, such as drunk driving or malicious property damage.

Accidentally damaging a fence as you are attempting to take a shortcut through private property is different from the consequences you might face if your intent was to enter the person’s property to set off a few firecrackers and started a fire – which could be considered reckless behavior, as well as criminal. Therefore, you might be required to pay the plaintiff an amount above the actual physical damages to the property, which might deter others from going onto private property or being irresponsible with fireworks. You may learn more about property and injury damages at our page on civil litigation.

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