What Kinds of Damages Can I Get in My Personal Injury Case?
In a personal injury lawsuit, the injured party (the plaintiff) may be permitted to recover several different types of damages from the person responsible for the injury (the defendant). Although each state’s rules may be slightly different, there are general categories of damages that plaintiffs may be able to recover.
Most damages in a personal injury case are divided between what is known as general damages and special damages. General damages, also known as non-economic damages, include damages that are more subjective in nature, such as pain and suffering. Special damages, also sometimes known as economic damages, encompass any definite costs incurred as a result of the injury, such as medical costs.
In some cases, both past (from the time of the injury until the time the damages are awarded) and future (from the time of the award forward) damages can be awarded. For example, a plaintiff might request damages for past pain and suffering and future pain and suffering if the plaintiff is likely to continue to experience pain in the future.
In order to recover any damages, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the accident was the proximate cause of each element of damages claimed. (For more on proximate cause, see our post here, discussing the elements of a negligence case).
General or Non-economic Damages
General damages include things like pain and suffering, mental anguish, impairment, disfigurement, and other damages that do not have a built-in or specific cost. They are, by their very nature, subjective, and therefore can be difficult to prove.
Some of the factors that can be considered when determining the amount of general damages to be awarded include the severity of the injury, the level of pain experienced by the plaintiff, the length of time the pain has lasted, anxiety or other mental anguish suffered by the plaintiff, and how the plaintiff’s life has been changed or interrupted as a result of the injury, pain, or resulting anguish.
General damages can also include damages such as loss of services, loss of consortium or loss of companionship, which may be awarded to the spouse, parent or child of the injured party. These damages compensate the family member for the loss of the love, companionship or guidance of that person in a wrongful death case, and loss of certain household services that may have been performed by the injured person who has either died or is no longer able to perform those services.
Special or Economic Damages
Special or economic damages are usually damages which can be objectively determined, and the plaintiff is required to present proof of the specific amount of economic damages claimed. But even economic damages may not be as straightforward as it might seem at first, depending on how severe the injury is and how long it might last.
One item of economic damages is medical expenses. If the injury is a relatively straightforward injury, such as a simple bone fracture, damages for medical expenses should be easy to determine, especially if the fracture has already healed by the time the damages are being determined, because all of the medical expenses related to that injury would have already been established.
But if the injury is a more complicated one which may require future medical care or treatment, the expenses involved may be more difficult to determine or estimate. For a plaintiff to prove damages for future medical expenses, the plaintiff would need to present expert testimony from a qualified medical provider about the extent of the future medical care that the plaintiff will need, as well as the cost of that treatment.
Another example of economic damages is property damage. Property damage is often awarded in automobile accident cases, and, depending on the state, can include the fair market value of the vehicle if it is considered to be a total loss as a result of the accident, the cost of repair of the vehicle if it is not a total loss, and possibly diminution in value of the vehicle even if it has been repaired.
Loss of income or earning capacity is another element of special damages. A plaintiff can be awarded damages both for any actual income lost as a result of the injury, and in some cases, loss of potential income in the future. There are many factors to consider when determining loss of earning capacity, which might include an analysis of any future promotions or salary increases the plaintiff would have been expected to receive before they were injured, as compared to what the plaintiff can expect now as a result of the limitations of the injury.
If you have been injured in an accident, you should seek the advice of an attorney who can provide guidance about what types of damages you may be entitled to recover in your case. Even if you decide that you do not want to file a lawsuit, a qualified attorney can help you to determine whether any settlement offered by the opposing party, their lawyer or their insurance company takes into account all of the elements of damage you might be able to recover.
To find a qualified personal injury lawyer who can help, search our website for personal injury attorneys in your area.
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