Understanding Monetary Damages Under Massachusetts Law

The civil justice system strives to make an injured party “whole” again when 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 delivering 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 because of the recklessness, carelessness, or negligence of another person or entity.

Monetary damages are meant to make a plaintiff “whole” again. Monetary remedies make the most sense when a plaintiff’s damages are financial, like medical bills for a physical injury. However, some damages cannot be undone or remedied with money. For example, a person who unfortunately loses a leg in a car accident cannot replace their leg, no matter how much money they are awarded. Non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, are also compensated with monetary remedies, even though they are not financial injuries.

If you were injured or suffered damages due to the careless, negligent, or intentional actions of someone else, you might be able to get a monetary award through a personal injury lawsuit. The amount of money your case is worth will depend on your unique circumstances. Each case is different and deserves special attention. Our Boston personal injury attorneys can help you get a monetary remedy for your damages. Call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 925-6407 for a private legal consultation, free of charge.

Types of Monetary Damages

There are three categories of monetary damages in the civil litigation context. First, compensatory or actual damages 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. Third, nominal damages provide very little monetary compensation but are awarded to prove a point rather than make the plaintiff whole. Punitive damages are rarely awarded, and Massachusetts law places a maximum cap on how much money can be awarded in punitive damages in certain kinds of cases. Call our Cambridge personal injury lawyers for more information about damages.

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.

Compensatory damages include economic and non-economic damages. The defining characteristic of economic 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. An individual may cover these damages, but they are paid out directly by the relevant insurance company in most cases.

Non-economic damages are less precise and may be open to interpretation. For example, pain and suffering is a common non-economic damages issue. Everybody has a different idea of what it means to be in pain and to suffer. Everyone also has a different idea about how much pain and suffering are worth. An attorney is necessary to help you assess the value of your non-economic damages and argue for an appropriate remedy.

Regardless of how the payment is made, the objective is to ensure the greatest compensation is received to reimburse the injured party for the expenses incurred due to the injury. There are no minimum or maximum amounts that can be paid out for compensatory damages under Massachusetts law. Talk to our Malden personal injury lawyers for more information.

Punitive Damages

Unlike readily calculable economic compensatory damages, punitive damages are not ascertainable. They are awarded to make an example out of defendants and 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 must pay are intended to be seen by companies so they adjust their behavior to ensure no one else gets injured.

The astronomical 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 in Boston. The cap is currently set at $500,000 for medical malpractice cases. However, this amount will not affect an injured party’s compensatory damages nor other actions where punitive damages may be awarded.

Nominal Damages

Nominal damages are somewhat unusual and not often awarded. Nominal damages are awarded to prove a point but do not necessarily reflect any actual damages suffered by the plaintiff. In many cases, nominal damages are as low as a single dollar. Plaintiffs who seek nominal damages often only want to hold the defendant accountable for their actions and might not be concerned with compensation because they either do not want it or do not need it.

The plaintiff can seek nominal damages in many cases. For example, if a plaintiff feels a defendant’s actions harmed them, but the plaintiff did not suffer any serious injuries, they may seek nominal damages. By doing so, they can hold the defendant responsible but may not be awarded compensatory damages.

In other cases, nominal damages are awarded when a plaintiff proves that the defendant harmed them, but they do not present any evidence of their injuries. Without evidence of injuries, compensatory damages cannot be calculated. However, a defendant may still be held liable through nominal damages.

An example of a case where nominal damages could be awarded might be a sexual harassment case. Suppose that the defendant regularly and repeatedly sexually harasses their employee by making rude remarks and inappropriately touching them. The plaintiff wants the behavior to stop, but they might not have suffered serious injuries. The defendant could be held liable for their continued harassment, but the plaintiff would not be awarded compensatory damages.

Nominal damages might be appropriate for some plaintiffs but not others. While the plaintiff mentioned above suffered no serious injuries, a different plaintiff could suffer serious emotional suffering after continued harassment from an employer. Talk to our Wakefield personal injury lawyers about nominal damages in your case.

Can You Get Punitive Damages in a Settlement in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, punitive damages are rarely available. The vast majority of personal injury cases will not permit the plaintiff to recover any punitive damages, no matter how bad their injuries are. Notable exceptions include certain medical malpractice claims and claims for wrongful death. Even then, a defendant’s behavior must be very reckless or even downright malicious for punitive damages to be awarded. Punitive damages are technically possible but highly unlikely.

Punitive damages are typically only available when a statute allows it, and this rule extends to settlements agreements. If your case does not specifically allow the possibility of punitive damages awards, your settlement probably cannot include punitive damages. However, if your case is one of the few exceptions, like a wrongful death claim, punitive damages may be part of a settlement offer. Keep in mind that court settlements are not considered taxable income, but punitive damages are. If you are awarded punitive damages, you will likely have to pay taxes on the award. You can reach out to our Massachusetts personal injury lawyers for additional help.

How Do I Know How Much My Personal Injury Case is Worth in Massachusetts?

The value of your case is a combination of subjective and objective factors. The value of economic damages, like medical bills, includes explicit costs and expenses associated with your accident. Non-economic damages must be interpreted under your specific circumstances. Throughout your case, the defendant will be trying to undermine your damages claims. You will have to present evidence and arguments to support your claims and get the compensation you deserve. Our Massachusetts personal injury lawyers can help you figure out the value of your case and the worth of your monetary damages.

Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorneys

If you or anyone you know was injured in an accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Our team of knowledgeable legal professionals is here to help you get the greatest monetary award possible. If you think you may have a personal injury case, call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 925-6407.