Contrary to certain current propaganda and beliefs, the legal system is not intended to distribute “free” money or dispense “jackpot justice”. Rather, the civil justice system holds individuals and corporations accountable for their wrongful and/or negligent actions that cause injuries and loss. The most common way the courts accomplish this is through monetary damages.
Mississippi recognizes several separate categories of damages, the most common of which are nominal, actual or compensatory, non-economic and punitive. Each of these types of damages serve a unique purpose and are awarded based on every individual case’s merits, facts and applicable laws. In some matters, they may all be readily available while, in others, a Plaintiff will have to fight to obtain one. However, they are all designed to achieve the same purpose and goal: they are the law’s way of making injured people whole again.
Nominal damages are usually awarded for legal, technical injury due to the violation of a legal right. Of the categories of damages discussed herein, nominal damages are the least prevalent due to the fact they are usually not recoverable in negligence actions. However, a person injured by an intentional tortious act or a breach of contract is entitled to nominal damages if actual injury cannot be shown. Nominal damages are the law’s mechanism for recognizing harm has occurred due to the violation of a legal right, even if actual damages cannot be shown. They are a substitute for actual damages when actual damages cannot be exhibited, but when a defendant’s violation of the law has been evidenced.
For example, in a breach of contract action, it may very well be that while a legal duty has been breached, the harm that results from that breach cannot be measured monetarily. In such situations, there exists a legal remedy however there are not any damages for which to compensate the aggrieved party. This is illustrative of a situation in which nominal damages would be awarded – to recognize the harm and violation of the law.
The most common form of damages sought in personal injury actions are actual or compensatory damages. While there are several categories of losses that comprise actual damages, they all have one purpose: actual damages are designed to compensate an injured party for the actual losses they have sustained. Generally, any actual damages that are sustained due to negligence of another are recoverable. This includes all losses you would not have sustained, but for the injury and negligence. In Mississippi, the law recognizes actual or compensatory damages as inclusive of the following:
– Economic damages – designed to compensate an injured party for their monetary or pecuniary loss, i.e. medical bills incurred due to injury, compensation for surgery, etc.
– Loss of earnings and/or earning capacity – designed to compensate an injured party for any lost wages due to the injury and/or any loss in the injured person’s earning capacity, i.e. any wages lost from work due to an injury caused by another – Lost profits – designed to compensate an aggrieved or injured party for any loss in profits due to the injury, i.e. an injury causes someone to lose business profits;
– Wrongful death damages – provide for compensation of medical, funeral and other like expenses if someone has been killed by the actions of another. This category of damages also includes the present net value of the work life expectancy of the deceased;
– Costs and fees – in limited circumstances, Mississippi law provides for the recovery of attorney’s fees and costs of litigation;
– Expenses – generally an injured party may recover expenses that are incurred due to the injury and are reasonable.
Non-economic damages encompass compensation for a wide variety of injuries, however this area of damages is most often referred to a “pain and suffering”. In fact, “pain and suffering” includes both of those categories as well as other categories that are not economically verifiable. Pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement, emotional distress, and mental anguish are just some of the types of damages recoverable and included as non-economic. Since these damages are not based on economic loss, they are not left to precise determination. Rather, they are left for the jury to determine and must be reasonable.
Finally, punitive damages are a unique type of damages provided for by Mississippi law which are not designed to compensate an individual or recognize the violation of a legal right. In limited circumstances where a defendant’s injury-causing behavior is so willful, malicious and reckless, the court will award these damages which are designed both to punish the defendant and deter similar conduct by the defendant, or others, in the future. In assessing punitive damages, the Court determines an amount that is rationally related to the purpose of punishing the defendant’s conduct, as well as, deterring future occurrences.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.