Personal injury cases can be very complex and there are several types of damages that may be awarded, depending on the nature of the case. If you have suffered an injury or damages as the result of someone else’s negligence or wrongful acts, you have the right to seek compensatory and sometimes punitive damages. Here’s how damages work in personal injury cases.
Compensatory damages are the most common form of compensation in a personal injury case and they are designed to reimburse the injured party for harm they have suffered. These damages are available in virtually all personal injury cases.
There are several forms of compensatory damages that are divided into special compensatory and general compensatory damages.
What Are Special Compensatory Damages?
Special damages are designed to compensate a victim for the monetary expenses they suffered as a result of the case. These damages are highly specific to the individual case and vary a great deal. Special damages do not have a limit and may include:
- Medical bills
- Future medical expenses
- Loss of earnings
- Reduced earning capacity (if disabled) or loss of future earnings (if permanently unable to work)
- Costs of changing trips or plans
- Household expenses, such as hiring a home aide or making adjustments to the home to accommodate a disability
Medical expenses account for a great deal of special damages awarded in any case. In most cases, plaintiffs must turn over some or all of this compensation to their health insurance company (if they were paying bills prior to the award) or hospital as a medical lien may be placed on the damage award.
What Are General Compensatory Damages?
General damages are designed to compensate a personal injury victim for any non-medical damages they suffered. Virtually all personal injury victims have at least some general damages in a case that may include:
- Loss of companionship
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
The more severe the injuries, the greater the general damages tend to be. It’s difficult to place a dollar amount on general damages, but insurance companies often employ a formula to reach at least a fair place to begin negotiations. For pain and suffering, this typically involves multiplying the actual or special damages (lost wages and medical expenses) by 1.5 to 5, depending on the severity of the injuries.
Punitive damages are very different from compensatory damages and they are not common. These damages are only awarded in cases in which the defendant’s behavior is very egregious or harmful to society and they are designed to punish the defendant. In most cases, punitive damages are awarded in cases of malicious acts or fraud such as aggravated assault or widespread harm.
Damages in Wrongful Death Cases
Wrongful death cases are unique in that they generally have damages that are not available in other personal injury cases. Wrongful death claims do not provide damages to the injured party but the surviving family members and dependents. Damages in a wrongful death claim may involve:
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Medical expenses prior to death
- Emotional distress of loved ones
- Loss of support and services
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of financial contribution
Damages in personal injury cases are designed to make the plaintiff whole, although this is of course not always possible. It’s important to remember that damages vary a great deal based on the type of injury case, the circumstances, the severity of the injuries, and other factors. If you are considering a personal injury claim after suffering an injury, a personal injury attorney can help you understand the types of damages potentially available in your case.