Damages in a Personal Injury Case

Damages are simply the losses one has suffered due to a personal injury.  These losses generally fall into two categories, non-economic or general damages and economic losses.

General Damages

These damages cannot be proved with any clear specificity but are awarded because they normally follow from an accident or injury and represent a significant loss. These damages are frequently called non-economic damages. General damages include:

Pain and suffering – Damages for pain and suffering considers the nature of the injury, the certainty of future pain, its severity, and how long the plaintiff is likely to be in pain. Some states allow the jury to assume that if a bodily injury has occurred there has been some pain and suffering, and some require that the plaintiff be conscious for some time period during the injury.

Disfigurement – When an injury has left a person deformed or disfigured, by scars or other permanent effects on personal appearance, the injured person (the “plaintiff”) may collect damages for any mental suffering that arises due to awareness of the disfigurement. These damages are sometimes included as an element of other types of damages, such as mental anguish.

Permanent disability – When an injury permanently impairs the physical or mental ability of a person to perform normal work or non-occupational activities, damages for the permanent disability may be sought.

Special Damages

This general category of damages covers all monetary losses, including medical expenses after an accident or injury. Recovery requires detailed proof that the losses were sustained and showing how much money was involved. Special damages include:

Lost wages – these damages represent the money a plaintiff would have earned — from the time of the injury to the date of settlement or judgment. An unemployed person may be permitted to recover lost wages if he or she can prove what could have been earned during the same period.

Medical expenses – bills and expenses for medical services such as doctors, hospital stays, emergency room treatment, ambulance fees, and nursing services. A plaintiff must show that the expenses are related to medical conditions resulting from his or her injury.

Medical surveillance – the cost of monitoring plaintiff’s medical condition after the plaintiff was exposed to a hazardous substance, so any illness or injury might be detected early.

Future lost earnings – after an accident or injury, these damages may be recovered if the plaintiff proves that his or her ability to earn money in the future has been impaired or diminished by the injuries. Factors that help determine whether an award should be made include the plaintiff’s age, health, life expectancy, occupation,
talents, skill, experience, and training. Past earnings are a factor in determining the appropriate compensation for lost earning capacity, but the claim focuses on what might have been earned were it not for the accident or injury.

Future medical expenses – this type of recovery is permitted if the plaintiff proves that he or she will need continued medical care because of the accident or injury. The proof must be sufficient for the jury to make an approximate estimate of the cost, i.e. through the medical opinion of a treating doctor.