Wellborn Paluch, LLP Blog

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What is the meaning of “damages” in a personal injury lawsuit?

When you have suffered a personal injury, whether in a slip and fall, a vehicular accident, or any other incident in which another party bears at least partial responsibility for your injury, you may be reimbursed for your expenses through an insurance settlement or you may choose to file a lawsuit against the offending party. Most people are concerned with the amount of reimbursement they will receive, known as “damages.”  In any personal injury case, as soon as you have begun receiving any necessary medical treatment, you or a family member should contact an experienced, reputable personal injury attorney to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve.

There are two primary types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Both are based on legal responsibility for the accident or incident.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are meant to compensate the victim for monetary losses, known as “general damages” and non-monetary losses, known as “special damages.”

General Compensatory Damages

General compensatory damages include costs of:

  • Medical treatment, rehabilitation, and medication
  • Lost wages during recovery
  • Lost future wages if employment opportunities diminish or disappear
  • Repair or replacement of damaged property
  • Ongoing costs of living with a disability, such as wheelchairs or physical therapy

 Special Compensatory Damages

 Special compensatory damages are somewhat more difficult to assign a monetary value since they involve personal pain and suffering, including:

  • Severe physical pain
  • Loss of consortium, loss of abilities that affect a marriage, such as sexual disability
  • Emotional distress or anguish
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement

Funeral expenses for family members, if there is a death involved, are also included in this category.

Comparative Negligence and Contributory Negligence

In some cases, both parties are found to share some portion (not necessarily an equal portion) of the responsibility for the injury, in which case the person injured may receive only partial compensation.  This can happen in situations in which the person injured was partly responsible for causing the accident or in which the victim did not seek medical attention promptly, thus exacerbating the injury.

Contributory negligence is only on the books in a handful of states. In states where it is in effect, the plaintiff may not be able recover any compensation at all if he or she is found to have partial responsibility for the injury.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are designed not only to reimburse the victim, but to punish the defendant for extraordinarily careless or dangerous conduct. During a personal injury case, the plaintiff may be awarded punitive damages in addition to the compensatory damages award. Punitive damages may be very high, some as much as tens of millions of dollars, since their purpose is to discourage the kind of behavior that resulted in this type of personal injury.

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