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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Punitive Damages

Term Definition Punitive Damages - a money award to a plaintiff that also punishes the defendant for his egregiously bad behavior.
Application in Divorce Also called exemplary damages, punitive damages are awards on an increasing scale above what it would take to compensate him or her for property loss.

Monetary damages are compensation paid a person who "has suffered loss, detriment, or injury to his person, property, or rights through the unlawful act or negligence of another."

Damages may either be compensatory, which are given to make up for the loss, or punitive, which are given to punish the defendant for his or her action. Generally, punitive damages are awarded only when compensatory or actual damages have been sustained.

Lawyers who specialize in personal injury torts -- the "slip-and-fall" lawyer or "ambulance chaser" -- win awards based on economic loss, injury, and pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is a term big enough to include not only physical discomfort and bodily distress but also emotional trauma and mental anguish. (In some jurisdictions, recovery for pain and suffering is restricted.)

Very often personal injury tort lawyers serve on a no win-no fee basis, whereby they receive a percentage of any settlement awarded the plaintiff in a personal injury tort.

In divorce actions, a lawyer is not permitted to graduate his fee based on the size of the property settlement. Success fees in divorce actions are considered unethical.

Alimony, maintenance and child support are not considered damages.

Monetary damages are not normally part of divorce actions, but marital torts, which are now more common, permit spouses to sue each other for damages.

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