The principle of “restitutio in integrum”
The latin phrase restituio in integrum may sound like something you’d see adorning the blazer of a Catholic schoolboy, but in legal terms, it is a common law principle dating back centuries and which forms the basis of a claim for compensation.
In an English case from the late 19th century, Livingstone v Rawyards Coal Co, Lord Blackburn described the principle as follows:
“… general rule that, where any injury is to be compensated by damages, in settling the sum of money to be given for reparation of damages you should as nearly as possible get at that sum of money which will put the party who has been injured … in the same position as he would have been in if he had not sustained the wrong for which he is now getting his compensation or reparation.”[emphasis added]
That is, the principle of restitutio in integrum is the principle that compensation should restore the injured person to the position they would have been in, if they weren’t injured by the defendant. Of course, no amount of money can rewind the clock so that the accident never happened.
This is why your solicitor at Stacks Goudkamp needs to develop a strong pre- and post-accident profile of you, to work out how your life has been changed by the accident. This profile will help your solicitor determine how much compensation you might receive if your case is decided by a judge or CARS Assessor, and provide you with advice about the value of your case.
The principle of restitutio in integrum also helps to explain why, if you are already suffering from a debilitating, permanent illness which prevents you from working, you won’t get compensation for lost income simply because your new injury would have stopped you from working if you weren’t already sick. Instead, the compensation ‘restores you’ to a position where you wouldn’t have been working anyway, and therefore you have not lost any income.
The principle of restitutio in integrum also explains why your solicitor might tell you that the behaviour of the defendant has little to no bearing on the amount of compensation you would receive. The conduct of the defendant which led to your accident is certainly relevant to the question of whether or not you will win your case. However, you don’t get more compensation if, for example, your car accident was caused by an unlicensed, drunk driver instead of a usually careful driver who made a mistake. You also don’t get more compensation because you have survived the accident relatively unscathed, but someone else might have been killed or more severely injured.
The amount of compensation you receive instead depends on how severe the injuries you’ve actually suffered are, and how the injuries affect certain aspects of your life.
The compensation you receive under NSW law is called “compensatory damages” and is generally paid in four categories, or “heads”, of damages:
- Medical expenses;
- Loss of income;
- Need for personal care and domestic assistance (in some cases);
- Pain and suffering (in come cases).
This is one of the major points of difference between Australian cases and cases in the United States. In the United States, injured plaintiffs will typically receive compensatory damages in the four categories listed above, plus “punitive damages”, literally designed to ‘punish’ the negligent party.
That’s why you hear of plaintiffs in the United States suing companies for many millions of dollars – most of those millions of dollars will be for punitive rather than compensatory damages.
In Australia, punitive damages will rarely be awarded in claims brought in negligence, and even then, only in very exceptional/extreme circumstances. Even in these very exceptional circumstances, the punitive damages received by the plaintiff will never be anywhere near as much as they are in the United States.
If you have suffered an injury as a result of someone else’s negligence and you believe you might be entitled to compensation which restores you to the position you were in before the accident, you should contact one of our compensation experts at Stacks Goudkamp for obligation free advice about your circumstances and entitlements. You can contact Stacks Goudkamp by phoning 1800 25 1800, or by making an online enquiry.
Written by Brett Watts.
Brett Watts an Associate in Tom Goudkamp and Ruth Hudson’s Practice Group. Brett represents people who have been injured in a variety of accidents including motor vehicle claims and public liability claims.