惩罚性赔偿（punitive damages）,也称示范性的赔偿（exemplary damages）或报复性的赔偿（vindictive damages）, 是指由法庭所作出的赔偿数额超出实际的损害数额的赔偿。一般认为，惩罚性赔偿制度主要应当适用于侵权案件，但在美国法中，这一制度被广泛地应用于合同纠纷，在许多州甚至主要适用于合同纠纷。惩罚性赔偿的功能不仅在于弥补受害人的损害，还在于惩罚和制裁严重过错行为；赔偿的数额主要不以实际的损害为标准，且不以实际损害为限。但是惩罚性赔偿的特点并不能割断其与补偿性赔偿的联系。惩罚性赔偿一般以补偿性赔偿的存在为依据，只有符合补偿性赔偿的构成要件才能请求惩罚性赔偿。
以下是exemplary damages的英文解释，选自The Real Life Dictionary of the Law
n. often called punitive damages, these are damages requested and/or awarded in a lawsuit when the defendant's willful acts were malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton or grossly reckless. Examples of acts warranting exemplary damages: publishing that someone had committed murders when the publisher knew it was not true but hated the person; an ex-husband trashes his former wife's auto and threatens further property damage; a stockbroker buys and sells a widow's stocks to generate commissions resulting in her losing all her capital （money）. These damages are awarded both as a punishment and to set a public example. They reward the plaintiff for the horrible nature of what she/he went through or suffered. Although often requested, exemplary damages are seldom awarded. There have been major awards in egregious （remarkable or outstanding） cases, such as fraud schemes, sexual harassment or other intentional and vicious actions even when the provable actual damages were not extensive.