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When a judge or jury awards damages in a civil case in which the plaintiff is victorious the damages may consist of both compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages compensate the plaintiff for his losses and are said to “make him whole.” Punitive damages, on the other hand, are considered punishment and are typically awarded with the court’s approval when the defendant’s behavior is found to be especially harmful. Punitive damages may be used to deter the defendant from engaging in the same behavior in the future or may be used to prevent others from engaging in the same activity. The Supreme Court has held that excessive punitive damages may violate a defendant’s Due Process rights. At common law punitive damages typically could not exceed four times the amount of the compensatory damages.
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