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Q: Legal Lawsuit Police Emotional Distress Compensatory Punitive Damages ( Answered,   0 Comments )
Subject: Legal Lawsuit Police Emotional Distress Compensatory Punitive Damages
Category: Relationships and Society > Law
Asked by: svitlik-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 13 May 2006 07:12 PDT
Expires: 12 Jun 2006 07:12 PDT
Question ID: 728395
I need to understand the difference between lawsuit damages for
emotional distress and compensatory damages.  Preferably I would like
a citation such as a legal book or legal case. The lawsuit may be in
Connecticut and may be Federal so this should apply too. This has to
do with false arrest and my lawyer told me that we might be able to
get damages for emotional distress. Since I was unemployed and I'm not
rich or well educated, he didn't feel the base damages, like losing
days from work would bring much damages, but felt that because I was
imprisoned for the weekend and then let go, I could do OK with
emotional distress the other types of damages.  I wasn't arrested
(never in trouble with the law at all). There was no warrant or prob.
cause. I was just captured and then let go. It seems I could prove it
pretty well.

I just don't want to go through a whole lawsuit if it's going to be
hard to get anything down the road. It's not just about money - I want
to clear this all up to and get to the bottom of things.  But,  I
don't really understand the emotional ditress and compenssatory type
of damages so I need to learn what this is so I know how to go
forward. I'd imagine too there could be a punitive award too.

Can someone explain to me what are emotional distress damages?  I'm
not stupid - I'll never be the same again from this awful experience,
and I go into a panic every time I see a cop on my street and so on. 
In fact, every time I see a police car and think its for me again.  
Do I just get up there any cry to a jury and hope they believe me, or
is there more to it than that?  It was a terrible experience for me. 
is there any guideline to go with?

Same for compensatory damage - what would I tell the jury - or how do
they know whawt to award?

I'd appreciate some reference to a case if possible.  I'm not too
interested in the law aspect related to how to file the suit - I
understand the amedments to the constitution and everything,  but I'm
puzzled about this emotional and comp aspect.
Subject: Re: Legal Lawsuit Police Emotional Distress Compensatory Punitive Damages
Answered By: hagan-ga on 17 May 2006 11:43 PDT
Hello, svitlik.  First let me say that I'm sorry for your troubles,
and I hope this answer will help ease your confusion.  Most of this is
going to be from my own experience as a lawyer handling personal
injury and civil rights-type lawsuits, but I will supply cases and
references at the end.  Also, please note that NONE of this is legal
advice.  It's just a brief discussion of what the law says, as a
general summation of what's out there.  What you do with this
information is up to you, and it's what you need a lawyer for.

You asked about the difference between "compensatory" and "emotional
distress" damages.  And the short answer is, that "emotional distress"
damages ARE a form of "compensatory" damages.  They are intended to
"compensate" you for an actual injury.  But I know that's not helpful,
so let me elaborate.

Damages in a civil lawsuit come in two main varieties --
"compensatory" damages, intended to make up for a loss that you
suffered, and "punitive" damages, intended to punish the defendant for
something he did wrong.  Ordinarily, you can't get punitive damages
unless you have suffered a loss, so you can't get punitive damages
unless you should also be receiving compensatory damages -- but the
way the amount is calculated is very different.

Compensatory damages are calculated by reference to "how badly were
you hurt."  Punitive damages are calculated by reference to BOTH "how
badly were you hurt," AND "how much money does the defendant have, so
it's large enough to punish."
Note that the amount of compensatory damages has NOTHING to do with
how much money the defendant has.  If Bill Gates accidentally breaks
your arm, he's on the hook for EXACTLY as much compensatory damages as
your next-door neighbor would be for doing the same thing.  Note also
that we don't punish people -- we don't impose punitive damages -- for
mere accidents.

BUT.  If Bill Gates does something malicious or intentional, so that
he should be "punished," the amount of PUNITIVE damages he would have
to pay would be a LOT more than your neighbor, because it takes a LOT
more money to "punish" Bill Gates.  You would still be entitled to
compensatory damages -- those aren't affected -- but your claim for
punitive damages would be greater.  Some jurisdictions, incidentally,
don't allow the plaintiff to keep all of the punitive damages awarded,
because they aren't intended to "compensate" the plaintiff, just to
punish the wrongdoer.

Okay so far?

Now let's talk strictly about "compensatory" damages.  As a category,
"compensatory" damages are broken down further, and that's where you
get the difference between "emotional distress" damages and "out of
pocket" damages.  Even though they're both "compensatory," as in
designed to compensate you, they are based on different kinds of

"Out of pocket" damages are also called "economic" damages.  Economic
damages are specific monetary losses that can be itemized.  For
example, in your case, the money you lost by losing time at work
counts as economic damages.  It's a simple matter of adding up hours
and multiplying by wages, and it's a calculation that anyone can do if
they have the numbers.  For another example -- in a car accident case,
the amount of money to fix the car, and the amount of money to pay
medical bills, are all economic damages.

But what about "pain and suffering?"  What about "emotional distress?"
 Those are still considered "compensatory" damages, but they are not
"economic" damages.  They are NONECONOMIC damages.  Generally they are
NOT capable of being itemized and totaled up, and they represent
things like pain, suffering, horror, sleeplessness, anxiety, worry,
anguish, and so on.

So how are noneconomic damages calculated?  Case by case.  There is no
formula.  There is no "range."  Sometimes you'll hear that in car
accident cases, the "rule of thumb" is that the "pain and suffering"
damages are twice or three times the out-of-pocket; but from long
experience I can tell you that's more often false than true.

The following are a few "false arrest" jury verdicts I found on the web:

$3K actual, $3K punitive ? South Carolina

$117 for ?emotional pain and mental anguish? in S. Florida

$0 damages

$100K in Texas

$55K in New Mexico

This guy claims to have won $1.2M in Connecticut in a false arrest case

jury awarded $1.1M, which the judge reduced to $400K, for emotional
distress damages based on ?sleeplessness, loss of appetite, anxiety
bouts, cessation of social, volunteer, and church activities,
ideations of suicide, and
concerns about his immigration status?

As you said, you might be in Federal court.  Even if you are, however,
the Court will apply some Connecticut law.  Here is the Connecticut
jury instruction on damages:

I hope this has been helpful.  It's a huge topic, so if there's
anything more you'd like, please don't hesitate to ask for
clarification before rating the answer.  Thanks!
There are no comments at this time.

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