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Compensation Claims: Damages - What Type of Damages can I Claim in Queensland? Can I Claim Punitive Damages?

Compensation Claims: Damages 

What Type of Damages Can I Claim in Queensland? Can I Claim Punitive Damages?

Article by Personal Injury Lawyer, Sam Stewart.

March, 2024


Sam Stewart is a Litigation Lawyer and Associate at O’SheaDyer Solicitors, Townsville. Sam practices exclusively in Personal Injury Law.


Injury Compensation Claims in Queensland: What type of damages can I claim and can I claim punitive damages?


Navigating the legal terrain in personal injury law can be a complex journey, especially when comparing the approaches taken by different jurisdictions. One common misconception with a personal injuries claim in Queensland is that, when calculating an injured person’s damages, many assume that ‘punitive damages’ are always awarded (like they are in American TV shows such as ‘Suits’ or ‘Better Call Saul’).

Unfortunately, our system of law in Queensland does not function the same as the more heavily publicised American system. Once again, it is back to the old adage: ‘It’s not like a TV show’.

In this article, I will delve into the difference between American law and Queensland law with respect to the damages component of personal injury claims.

But right off the bat - In Queensland, there is no legislation or case law that allows plaintiffs to claim for punitive damages.

The American Perspective

In the United States, personal injury lawsuits often include a component known as punitive damages. These damages are intended to punish the defendant for egregious conduct and to serve as a deterrent to others. A notorious case highlighting the concept of punitive damages is the 1994 incident involving Stella Liebeck and McDonald's.

Stella Liebeck spilled hot coffee on herself after purchasing it from a McDonald's drive-thru. Subsequently, she filed a lawsuit against the fast-food giant, alleging that the coffee was excessively hot, causing severe burns. The case attracted widespread attention due to the jury's decision to award Liebeck significant compensatory damages along with a substantial amount in punitive damages. The verdict sparked debates about the appropriateness of punitive damages in personal injury cases.

The Queensland Perspective

In Queensland, the legal approach to personal injury damages differs significantly. Unlike the United States, Queensland does not recognise punitive damages in personal injury claims.

In Queensland, damages are primarily focussed on compensating the injured party for the losses suffered.

In the absence of punitive damages, Queensland law emphasises the principles of economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages may include medical expenses, loss of income, and property damage directly related to the injury. On the other hand, non-economic damages cover intangible losses such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life (which is a minimal amount due to changes in legislation).

Food for Thought

The absence of punitive damages in Queensland reflects a legal philosophy that prioritises compensating victims rather than punishing wrongdoers.

This approach aims to ensure that personal injury claims serve the purpose of restoring the injured party to the same financial position they would have been in had the injury not occurred.

While the American system embraces the punitive aspect as a means of discouraging reckless behaviour, the Queensland system emphasises the restoration of the injured party's well-being and financial stability.

Understanding these differences is crucial for individuals navigating the legal systems in both jurisdictions.

So can I get Punitive Damages?

No. Personal injury law is multifaceted. The variances between American and Queensland approaches highlight the diversity in legal philosophies. The McDonald's coffee case serves as a good example of how punitive damages play a role in the American legal landscape, a feature absent in Queensland's legal framework.

At O’SheaDyer Solicitors, we understand the philosophy of the Queensland jurisdiction and harness it to ensure the best possible results for our clients. We work hard to pursue claims so that people are restored to the same financial position they would have been in had the injury not occurred.


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