Types of Damages in Drug, Medical Device and Personal Injury Lawsuits

We discuss drug, medical device, and personal injury lawsuits frequently, and those discussions may leave readers with a lot of questions. Sometimes the judge or jury awards one or more types of damages, and other times plaintiffs receive financial awards for pain and suffering, medical costs, or lost wages. It can be a challenge to understand exactly how the court determines how much money to award a plaintiff and why.

We’ve consulted a number of resources in order to explain how our legal system defines and addresses each type of financial compensation you might see in a typical drug, medical device, or personal injury lawsuit. Keep reading to find out why some lawsuits end with very small verdicts, while others award millions or even billions of dollars.

Damages Apply to Tort Law

A tort in and of itself is any act resulting in injury to another person, their property, or their reputation. There are many different kinds of torts, but we see those involving negligence and product liability most frequently here at ConsumerSafety.org.

Tort law defines the section of our legal system that protects individuals from the harmful acts of others. It is sometimes described as corrective justice, meaning it intends to restore the injured party to the position, financial or otherwise, they would have occupied if not for the bad acts of another. Damages are the means by which the legal system achieves that restoration, usually in the form of monetary compensation.

Most Common Types of Damages

There are two main types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Judges or juries award compensatory damages in an effort to financially compensate a plaintiff for the losses, physical or otherwise, incurred as a result of another’s wrongful act. Compensatory damages can be categorized as either special damages or general damages. Special damages correspond to tangible monetary losses like lost wages or medical bills, and general damages are associated with intangible injuries like mental pain or loss of opportunity.  The following injuries are accounted for within compensatory damages:

Types of Compensatory Damages

Special Damages General Damages
  • Repair of Property Damage
  • Replacement of Damaged Property
  • Lost Earnings
  • Medical Expenses
  • Ambulance Fees
  • Increased Living Expenses
  • Transportation
  • Future Losses (Earnings, Sales)
  • Future Medical Care
  • Physical Pain
  • Emotional Distress or Trauma
  • Loss of Companionship
  • Loss of Consortium
  • Loss of Reputation
  • Loss or Impairment of Physical Capacity
  • Loss of Opportunity
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life

It can be understandably difficult to assign a dollar amount to many of these injuries, which explains some of the variability you may see in lawsuit damage awards.

Punitive damages are levied as a punishment for the breaching party as well as an incentive to refrain from repeating whatever lead to the tort. Almost any time you see a single lawsuit plaintiff earn a judgment on the order of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars, punitive damages were part of that award.

Examples of Lawsuit Judgments and Included Damages

In August 2017, Eva Echeverria’s talcum powder lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson ended in a $417 million verdict. She claimed that J&J knew their baby powder carried a risk of cancer and willfully chose to conceal it from consumers. The jury broke their award decision into a total of $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. and parent company J&J. This award was overturned on appeal due to alleged jury misconduct and trial errors leading to excessive damages.

In 2016, a California man filed a Roundup lawsuit against Monsanto, claiming the weedkiller contributed to his development of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Some 2.5 years later, a jury agreed with Dewayne Johnson about the role the glyphosate-based herbicide played in his cancer. They awarded him approximately $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages. Monsanto appealed the verdict, but a San Francisco Superior Court judge upheld the original decision in October 2018. However, even though the verdict was upheld, the judge reduced the total amount the Johnson family would receive to $78.5 million, stating that the maximum amount of punitive damages could not exceed those of the compensatory damages under due process considerations.

Just looking at these two decisions, you can see how variable both compensatory and punitive damages can be. In each of the above-mentioned cases, the plaintiffs had been diagnosed with terminal illnesses as an alleged result of flawed or dangerous products. Despite that similarity, the original compensatory damages award for Eva Echeverria was almost twice that of Dewayne Johnson’s. These examples illustrate why a discussion with a lawyer experienced in medical device or drug lawsuits is the best way to understand the monetary potential of any associated lawsuit or personal injury case.

You can learn more about the types of damages associated with a variety of lawsuits by clicking the appropriate link below:

Authored by Katy Moncivais, Ph.D.Medical Editor
Photo of Katy Moncivais, Ph.D.
Katy Moncivais holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. She’s an experienced Regenerative Medicine Consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & healthcare industry. Skilled in adult stem cells, medical devices, biomechanics, bacterial and mammalian cell culture, and regenerative medicine, she provides guidance on an array of topics affecting consumers. In her role at ConsumerSafety.org, Dr. Moncivais works alongside the writing and research staff to help deliver fact-based news stories to consumers. Her unique professional history alongside her rigorous educational background allows her to contribute to a variety of consumer-focused topics with a fresh perspective. In addition, Dr. Moncivais reviews portions of medically driven content to ensure scientific accuracy.
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