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By Shaheen Wallace, Esq. May 10, 2020

Why Do We Have to Give Money Damages?

In the United States, we have a criminal justice system and a civil justice system.

The criminal justice system punishes and the civil justice system compensates.

Think of it this way. If someone commits a crime against a person and they are found guilty, the punishment they serve is to fulfill a debt they now owe to the community and society as a whole. That’s why criminal cases are captioned “The People vs. John Doe” or “The Commonwealth vs. John Doe” or “The United States vs. John Doe.” On the other hand, if someone is negligent and causes serious bodily harm and is found liable, the debt they owe is to the specific person they injured. And that’s why the cases are captioned “John Doe vs. Jane Doe.”

So why money damages?

In a civil justice system, the compensation must be civil. We cannot demand an eye for an eye. The only other recourse available is money. If the injury took away a person’s ability to work, or to live normally without constant medical attention, or to be free from pain, that is how we are required to right that wrong.

The idea of compensating (or balancing) the level of the harm and loss with money is to make the injured party whole again. While money cannot undo the harm that was done, it is aimed at putting the injured party back in the position they would have been in had the harm never occurred.

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