Damages are typically defined as a monetary compensation for a loss. There are two types of damages to be considered: compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages compensate the plaintiff for the harm caused by the defendant’s conduct. Generally, those damages would include expenses incurred by the plaintiff for therapy costs, prescription medicine costs (if the plaintiff is facing long-term depression or mental illness resulting from his or her spouse’s alienation), loss of services in the home (day-to -day household chores), loss of support (present and future earnings of his or her spouse), loss of consortium (sexual relations), emotional distress, injury to the plaintiff’s reputation, costs of litigation (including costs associated with the alienation of affections claim as well as the domestic case that may have resulted from a breakup of the plaintiff’s marriage). As you can imagine, placing monetary value on some of these losses can be very difficult.
Punitive damages are damages intended to punish a defendant. For the question of punitive damages to be submitted to a jury, there must be evidence of circumstances of aggravation beyond the proof of malice necessary to recover compensatory damages. These specific circumstances of aggravation include willful, wanton, aggravated or malicious conduct. So, first a plaintiff must show evidence of malice. If the paramour and the spouse had sexual relations, it is likely that malice will be implied. Second, a plaintiff must show the paramour aggravated the conduct. Some may say the paramour poured salt in an open wound. What are some specific circumstances of aggravation? In one case, sufficient evidence of aggravation to justify a punitive damages award existed where the plaintiff presented evidence that the plaintiff’s spouse and the paramour had sex at least two times, the paramour accompanied the plaintiff’s spouse when returning the children to the custody of the plaintiff, the paramour appeared unannounced at front door of the marital home to ask the plaintiff if they could be friends, and the paramour arrived in the driveway of the marital home while plaintiff was visiting his children. Other circumstances that might suggest that the circumstances have been aggravated by the defendant’s conduct may include a defendant calling the plaintiff’s spouse hundreds of times while having the knowledge of the marriage.
Under North Carolina law, punitive damages are never awarded merely because personal injury is inflicted, nor are they measured by the extent of the injury; rather, they are awarded because of the defendant’s outrageous conduct. However, with outrageous conduct established, a jury still may not find a defendant should be punished. Finally, in order to recover punitive damages, a jury must first award compensatory damages, even if those compensatory damages are nominal. Then, depending on the evidence presented, a jury can determine whether the evidence is sufficient to show that punitive damages should also be awarded.