Understanding Monetary Damages under Massachusetts Law

The civil justice system strives to make an injured party “whole” again when they have been injured in an accident. Whatever the court decides is the appropriate measure to accomplish this is called a “remedy.” There are two generally accepted legal remedies: 1) specific performance; and 2) monetary damages. Specific performance is rarely used in injury cases, and is more often reserved for contractual promises (Consider breach of a real estate contract, for example. The remedy may be delivery of the house under the contract, or specifically performing what was agreed upon). Monetary damages are far more common, especially when an accident or injury has occurred as a result of the recklessness, carelessness, or negligence of another person or entity.

Types of Monetary Damages

There are two categories of monetary damages in the civil litigation context. First, compensatory, or actual, damages which seek to compensate the victim for actual losses incurred. Second, punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, strive to deter future similar conduct from other parties. The latter type is rarely awarded, and Massachusetts law places a maximum cap on how much money can be awarded in punitive damages in certain kinds of cases.

Compensatory Damages

In civil litigation, this is the most common remedy for wrongful conduct. Though compensatory damages can cover many losses, these damages will usually cover:

-Medical expenses incurred;

-Price of long-term care if severely disabled;

-Loss of earning capacity, both for the time during recovery and the future, if applicable;

-Reimbursement of lost wages; and

-Pain and suffering.

The defining characteristic of compensatory damages is that they are ascertainable; they are not based on conjecture or speculation. They are specific expenses that have been incurred or will be incurred as a result of the injury. These damages may be covered by an individual, but in most cases, are paid out directly by the relevant insurance company. Regardless of how the payment is made, the objective is to ensure the greatest amount of compensation is received in order to reimburse the injured party for the expenses incurred as a result of the injury.. There are no minimum or maximum amounts that can be paid out for compensatory damages under Massachusetts law.

Punitive Damages

Unlike readily calculable compensatory damages, punitive damages are not ascertainable and are awarded only to make an example out of a situation to deter future conduct from similarly situated parties. These monetary awards are most common when a large industry (e.g., automotive, environmental, pharmaceutical) is charged with negligent conduct; the high damages they will be required to pay out are intended for other companies to see and to adjust their behavior accordingly to ensure no additional people are injured.

The astronomical amounts of punitive damages that have been awarded in certain contexts have led many states, including Massachusetts, to place a “cap” on how much can be awarded in punitive damages, specifically in the context of medical malpractice cases. The cap is currently set at $500,000 for medical malpractice cases, although this amount will not affect the amount an injured party is entitled to for compensatory damages or other actions where punitive damages may be awarded.

Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorneys

If you or anyone you know has been injured in an accident due to another’s carelessness or negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. John J. Sheehan and his team of knowledgeable personal injury attorneys understand how difficult it can be both emotionally and financially following an accident. We are here to help you navigate the process and ensure you receive the greatest monetary award possible under Massachusetts law. If you are think you may have a viable personal injury case and want to hear more about your legal options, contact our Boston office today.