Types of Damages in Personal Injury Cases

In the context of personal injury claims, “damages” refer to the monetary compensation that a plaintiff may be awarded in a lawsuit. The types of damages which may be recovered are designed to restore the injured party to the position they were in prior to the injury or harm.

This compensation may cover a range of losses, from monetary losses like medical expenses and lost wages, to non-monetary losses like pain and suffering. The specific amount and types of damages awarded depend on the nature and severity of the injury, as well as the laws of the jurisdiction in which the case is heard.

Types of Personal Injury Damages

There are 3 types of damages available in personal injury claims:  special, general, and punitive damages. However, special and general damages are often combined and referred to as compensatory damages. Given special and general damages are sub-categories of compensatory damages, there is sometimes confusion about these types of damages.

The illustration below breaks down the types of damages, and includes examples of when each type of damage is awarded.

Types of Damages in Personal Injury Cases

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages aim to “compensate” the injured party for losses incurred as a result of the injury. This form of damage seeks to restore the financial state of the injured person back to what it was before the injury occurred.

Compensatory damages can be divided into two categories: special damages and general damages. Special damages refer to economic losses that are easily quantifiable, such as medical bills and lost income, while general damages account for non-economic losses that are not easily quantified, such as pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.

What Are Special Damages?

Special damages are those that can be quantified and include expenses such as medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and lost earnings. Because these damages can be easily quantified, they are often referred to as economic damages, or monetary damages. These damages are unique to each case, hence the term “special”, as they directly correspond to the financial impact of the injury on the claimant.

Examples of Special Damages

Examples of special damages include, but are not limited to:

  • Medical Bills:  These are the costs related to medical care after the injury, such as a doctor treating car wreck injuries. They can include the cost of ambulance services, emergency room visits, hospital stays, surgeries, and medication.
  • Rehabilitation Costs:  These include the costs for physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, cognitive therapy, and other therapeutic measures necessary for recovery.
  • Lost Earnings:  If the injury caused the plaintiff to miss work, they could be compensated for the income they would have made during that time.
  • Loss of Earning Capacity:  If the injury results in long term or permanent inability to work, compensation may cover future lost wages.
  • Property Damage:  If personal property was damaged as a result of the incident, the plaintiff may be reimbursed for repair or replacement costs.
  • Out-of-Pocket Expenses:  These are other expenses incurred as a result of the injury. This could include transportation costs to medical appointments, or modifications to a home or vehicle to accommodate a disability.

Remember, the purpose of special damages is to financially restore the plaintiff as closely as possible to their pre-injury state.

How Are Special Damages Calculated?

Calculating special damages involves a comprehensive assessment of all economic losses the plaintiff has incurred as a result of the injury. A good starting point for this calculation is to add up all the measurable expenses, such as medical bills, rehabilitation costs, and property damages.

  • Medical Bills:  Medical bills include the total cost of medical care required due to the injury. This will encompass all treatments, surgeries, doctor visits, medications, and any required medical equipment or supplies.
  • Rehabilitation costs:  These damages include all expenses related to physical or occupational therapy, or any other therapeutic measures needed for recovery.
  • Lost earnings:  Lost earnings are calculated by determining the amount of income lost due to missed workdays, while loss of earning capacity considers potential future losses if the injury prevents the plaintiff from returning to their previous employment or reduces their ability to earn.
  • Property damage:  Property damage calculations include the cost of repairing or replacing any personal property that was damaged as a result of the incident.
  • Out-of-pocket expenses:  Expenses must also be factored in, which could include anything from transportation costs to and from medical appointments, to expenses related to home or vehicle modifications necessary due to the injury.

It’s important to keep detailed records of all related expenses to ensure an accurate calculation of special damages. In some cases, an economic expert may be brought in to provide a more detailed analysis and projection of future expenses. Remember, the goal of special damages is to restore the plaintiff’s financial state to what it would have been had the injury not occurred.

What Are General Damages?

General damages are so named because they cover the “general” or non-specific aspects of a plaintiff’s losses that are not easily quantifiable. Unlike special damages, which compensate for measurable losses like medical bills or lost wages, general damages compensate for subjective non-economic, or non-monetary, impacts of an injury.

This includes pain and suffering, emotional distress, or loss of enjoyment of life, all of which broadly affect the plaintiff’s overall quality of life. As these damages are inherently more subjective and vary greatly from case to case, they are termed as “general”. These types of damages attempt to monetarily compensate for areas of loss that are generally experienced as a result of an injury, but whose exact financial impact cannot be specifically calculated.

Examples of General Damages

Examples of general damages include, but are not limited to:

  • Pain and Suffering:  This accounts for the physical pain and discomfort an individual has endured due to the injury.
  • Emotional Distress:  Compensation for emotional or psychological impact caused by the injury, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life:  If the injury affects the plaintiff’s ability to enjoy daily pursuits and hobbies, they may be compensated for this loss.
  • Loss of Consortium or Companionship:  If the injury has had a negative impact on the plaintiff’s relationship with their spouse or family, such as a wrongful death claim, they may receive compensation.
  • Disfigurement or Physical Impairment:  If the injury has resulted in significant scarring or long-term physical impairment, such as a loss of limb, compensation may be awarded.

Just as with special damages, the aim of general damages is to restore the plaintiff to the position they were in prior to the injury, to the extent that this is possible.

How Are General Damages Calculated?

Calculating general damages can be a complex process due to their subjective nature. Unlike special damages, there are no concrete bills or receipts to determine the value of these types of damages. Instead, the calculation involves a thorough assessment of the effect of an injury on the plaintiff’s life. The following are some of the factors that may be considered:

  • Severity and Duration of Pain and Suffering:  The more severe and long-lasting the pain, the higher the compensation might be. Medical reports and testimony from healthcare professionals play a crucial role in establishing this.
  • Long-Term Effects:  If an injury has long-term or permanent effects — such as ongoing pain, lasting disability, or scarring — this could increase the amount of damages.
  • Emotional Impact:  Psychological assessments can attest to the mental and emotional trauma experienced by the plaintiff as a result of the injury.
  • Impact on Daily Life:  The extent to which the injury has affected the plaintiff’s daily routines, hobbies, and overall enjoyment of life would also be taken into account.
  • Comparative Case Law:  Courts often look at the amounts awarded in similar cases in the past to help determine an appropriate amount.

Given these variables, it’s beneficial to consult with our personal injury attorneys who can help assess and argue for a fair amount of general damages. It’s important to note that each case is unique, and the calculation of general damages will be tailored to the specific circumstances of the your case.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are a type of compensation that goes beyond simple compensation and is awarded to punish the defendant for their reckless, negligent, or intentional conduct. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not concerned with compensating the plaintiff for their losses. Instead, they are designed to penalize the defendant and deter them and others from engaging in similar behavior in the future.

It’s important to note that punitive damages are not awarded in every personal injury case. These types of damages are typically reserved for cases where the defendant’s behavior was egregiously harmful or particularly outrageous. As such, the laws and standards for awarding punitive damages vary by jurisdiction.

In determining the amount of punitive damages, courts often consider factors such as the severity of the defendant’s misconduct, the harm caused to the plaintiff, and the defendant’s wealth. Despite their punitive nature, these damages still have to be proportionate to the actual damage suffered by the plaintiff. The goal of punitive damages, ultimately, is to serve justice by punishing truly negligent behavior and discouraging such conduct in the future.

Examples of Punitive Damages

Examples of cases where punitive damages may be awarded include, but are not limited to:

  • Gross Negligence:  If the defendant’s actions were extremely careless and showed a complete disregard for the safety of others. For example, a drunk driver causing an accident.
  • Fraud:  If the defendant intentionally deceived the plaintiff, causing harm. An example would be a company knowingly selling defective products.
  • Defamation:  If the defendant intentionally spread false information that damaged the plaintiff’s reputation. This could occur in cases of libel or slander.
  • Malicious Conduct:  If the defendant intentionally caused harm to the plaintiff. For instance, assault or battery cases.
  • Violations of Rights:  If the defendant egregiously violated the plaintiff’s rights. For example, discriminatory practices in the workplace.

In each of these cases, the defendant’s behavior goes beyond simple negligence, demonstrating a malicious or extremely careless disregard for the rights and safety of others. The amount of punitive damages awarded usually reflects the severity of the defendant’s misconduct and is intended to deter similar actions in the future.

How Are Punitive Damages Calculated?

The calculation of punitive damages varies widely and depends on a multitude of factors, primarily the degree of the defendant’s misconduct and its impact. There are no set rules or formulas; instead, the court uses its discretion to determine an appropriate amount. Here are some of the key considerations:

  • Severity of Misconduct:  The more egregious the defendant’s behavior, the higher the punitive damages are, typically. This is to ensure the punishment sufficiently deters similar conduct in the future.
  • Harm Caused:  The degree of harm or distress inflicted upon the plaintiff can significantly influence the punitive damages awarded. This includes both physical harm and emotional distress.
  • Defendant’s Financial Status:  The wealth of the defendant can be taken into account. The rationale is to ensure that the penalty is significant enough to be a deterrent, without being financially ruinous.
  • Mitigating Factors:  Any mitigating circumstances, such as a defendant’s attempt to rectify their behavior or their lack of previous misconduct, may reduce the amount of punitive damages awarded.
  • Comparative Case Law:  Similar to the calculation of general damages, courts may reference past cases with similar circumstances to guide the calculation of punitive damages.

Given the complexity and subjective nature of these calculations, legal representation is invaluable. Our experienced personal injury attorneys can accurately assess the scope for punitive damages, helping to secure a fair and just outcome for you. It is crucial to remember that each case is unique, and calculations will vary based on the specific circumstances of the incident.

Contact the Injury Lawyers at Thompson Law Today

If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence or intentional misconduct, you may be entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages. The experienced personal injury lawyers at Thompson Law are well-versed in all aspects of personal injury law and are ready to fight for the types of damages you deserve. We offer in-depth FREE CONSULTATIONS and will guide you through every step of your injury claim process, from calculating potential damages to presenting a compelling case.

Remember, each case is unique, and our legal team is committed to providing personalized guidance tailored to your specific circumstances. Contact us today to discuss your case, what types of damages may apply, and explore your options. Your path to justice starts here with Thompson Law.No Win No Fee Sign in red with white letters - Types of damages in personal injury claims

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