Unintentional injuries are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. In a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental injuries account for 224,935 deaths in the country. Around 45,404 are due to motor vehicle crashes, 44,686 from unintentional falls, and 102,001 from accidental poisoning.
Most individuals who sustain unintentional injuries experience enduring physical, psychological, and emotional pain. Because of this, they may be entitled to compensatory damages if negligent or unlawful actions caused the injury.
Compensatory damages refer to the amount of money a court awards to a plaintiff. It aims to compensate for the injury or loss they suffered because of another party’s unlawful conduct.
Learn more about compensatory damages and how a personal injury lawyer can help you prove your claim.
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Compensatory Damages Examples
Familiarizing yourself with compensatory damages will help you prepare for what to expect while seeking compensation.
In personal injury cases, two types of compensatory damages exists—special and general damages.
Knowing the difference between the two will help you identify, quantify, and determine the full extent of compensation you may be entitled to in a personal injury case.
Special damages in personal injury cases
Special damages in a personal injury claim refer to economic damages. These are quantifiable financial losses suffered by the victim as a direct result of the injury.
Specifically, it intends to reimburse the injured party for actual losses incurred or anticipated. Because they are quantifiable, special damages are easy to prove and calculate than general damages. You only need to provide documents such as medical bills and other receipts.
Examples of special compensatory damages in personal injury cases include:
The injured victim may claim reimbursement for medical expenses related to their injury. For example, hospital bills, consultations, prescriptions, surgeries, and other medical treatment expenses, including future medical care such as physical therapy and rehabilitation.
Your medical expenses will likely be the center of your personal injury claim. That’s because the total cost and extent of your medical treatment reflect the severity of your injuries.
Remember that you have the right to recover the total face value of your medical bills. But they should match up with corresponding medical reports documenting your injuries.
An insurance company usually requires access to your medical records to verify your condition. While that’s standard procedure, insurance adjusters don’t have to scrutinize your medical records for any history of illness or injury.
A lawyer will be valuable in navigating the legal side of medical record authorization and limiting how far back the insurers can delve into your medical history.
Loss of wages and earning capacity
A person is entitled to financial compensation if the injury caused them to miss work or permanently affected their ability to work.
Although often used interchangeably, compensation for loss of wages is distinct from loss of earning capacity.
Suppose you had to spend several weeks in the hospital. You couldn’t show up at work, causing you to miss out on income you could have earned on those weeks. Now, damages for lost wages aim to compensate you for those missed earning opportunities.
The process of calculating your lost wages is straightforward. If you’re an hourly worker, multiply your hourly wage by the missed work hours. The same applies to salaried workers after dividing their monthly or yearly salary by their missed work hours.
On the other hand, the loss of earning capacity is much more complex. It aims to compensate for your inability to earn money you’re supposed to earn before the injuries affect your ability to work.
Calculating your lost earning capacity may require considering numerous factors. It may include how long your injuries will affect you and what job duties you’ll no longer be able to perform.
These damages can represent a significant portion of your personal injury claim. But like everything in your claim, you need sufficient documentation to prove your losses. These may include income-related statements, past pay stubs, professional contracts, and tax returns.
A claim for special damages in personal injury cases can also include compensation for property damage. For example, you could claim reimbursement for repairing or replacing your car after a vehicle collision accident. Typically, the calculation for the compensation is based on the lesser amount between:
- The difference in fair market value right before and after the incident that caused damage to the property, and
- The repair or replacement costs
To claim compensation for property damage, you must have evidence, such as pictures and other valid documentation. You will also need to establish the value of the damaged property, so it’s best to get an appraiser.
The insurer may send an adjuster to appraise the damage. They may also ask you to take the vehicle to a collision center for a thorough inspection by a mechanic. During this stage, ensure to collect and preserve all evidence related to property damage, such as contracts, receipts, and invoices.
If the accident has prevented you from performing household chores and tasks, you could be entitled to domestic services as part of your claim for special damages. Services include cooking, cleaning, and other household duties you could have done before the accident.
The compensation will depend on the severity of the injury, how long services are required, and the cost of hiring someone to do them. Often, it is based on the rate charges of the ongoing housekeeping services.
General damages in personal injury cases
General damages in a personal injury claim refer to non-economic damages with no specific monetary value.
Its primary purpose is compensating a person for intangible losses resulting from the injury. Unlike economic losses, general damages are much more difficult to calculate. Proving and quantifying these losses may require testimony from experts like doctors or psychiatrists.
Examples of general compensatory damages include:
Pain and suffering
Pain and suffering are not easily quantifiable since they are not based on any specific financial loss. Instead, they are based on the subjective experience of the injured person.
Damages for pain and suffering can include compensation for the physical discomfort, mental anguish, or emotional distress that the injury has caused.
Calculating these non-economic damages depends on the specific facts of the case. Lawyers and insurers often use the multiplier method when putting a monetary value on pain and suffering.
The multiplier method involves multiplying the total amount of special damages by a particular number, typically within the ranges from 1 and 5, which reflects the severity of the pain and suffering.
Suppose you incurred $6,000 in medical expenses and $3,000 in property damage. In that case, you have $9,000 in special damages. The insurer used a multiplier of 3, factoring in the severity of the injury, length of recovery, and extent the injury impacted your life. Using the multiplier method, you are entitled to $27,000 as compensation for your pain and suffering.
A person could be entitled to compensatory damages for disfigurement if they sustained scars or permanent physical injuries. The injury could be as minor as a tiny scar on the leg or serious as a facial scar or loss of a limb. Nevertheless, it can severely impact a person’s well-being and quality of life.
To claim compensatory damages for disfigurement, you will need to provide evidence. Taking photographs of the injury right after the accident is one way to document disfigurement. You can also keep a record of your medical treatment or surgery for documentation.
Loss of enjoyment of life
Suppose you can no longer enjoy your hobbies, engage in sports, or any day-to-day activity you love doing because of your injuries. In that case, you deserve compensation for your loss of enjoyment of life.
Damages for loss of enjoyment of life aim to compensate an injured party for the loss of their ability to do activities they previously enjoyed as a result of the injury. Victims must prove that the injuries have negatively affected their quality of life.
A claim for compensatory damages for loss of enjoyment of life can be challenging to prove as there are no receipts to quantify your inability to do what you used to enjoy. But a physician can explain how your injuries can impact your ability to perform activities. Family members may also testify and present photographic evidence to demonstrate how your life has changed after the injury.
Loss of consortium
The spouse or partner of the injured party may claim financial compensation under loss of consortium. It aims to compensate for the loss of affection, companionship, financial support, and sexual intimacy that the spouse or partner may experience because of the injury or death.
In the past, only spouses were eligible for loss of consortium claims. However, some states permit a child or parent to recover damages for loss of consortium to compensate them for losing the ability to engage and enjoy life with the injured or deceased.
Factors That May Affect Your Claim for Compensatory Damages
Courts and insurers consider numerous factors when calculating compensatory damages. Learn some of these factors below and understand how they can affect the compensation or awards you may receive.
Nature and extent of injuries
The nature and extent of your injuries can increase the compensation you may be eligible to recover. For instance, a person that suffered partial or complete paralysis will likely receive greater compensation than those who only sustained a minor physical injury.
The reason is directly linked to the costs of medical treatments required. Additionally, severe injuries are more painful and need more time to heal. A longer recovery period could also mean more missed work hours and lost income.
Solid medical documentation is critical to receive maximum compensatory damages. Moreover, photos of your injuries and any medical records related to your treatment can further prove the harm you suffered.
Degree of liability
Multiple parties’ negligence can be responsible for an accident. But since states follow different negligence rules, your degree of liability and its impact on compensation depends on the laws where the accident took place.
In states that follow the contributory negligence system, you cannot recover damages even if you’re only one percent at fault for the accident. Your negligence, no matter how small, would bar you from receiving compensation in any way.
Only the District of Columbia and the states of Alabama, North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia use the contributory negligence rule. Other states use the principle of comparative negligence.
Under the comparative negligence system, you can collect damages even if you’re 99% liable for the accident. However, it limits the amount of money you can recover based on the percentage of your fault.
Some states limit the amount of compensation or award plaintiffs can recover in a personal injury case. These limitations can take the form of caps on damages, varying significantly by state.
Some states only cap economic damages, while others impose limits on both economic and non-economic losses. For example, California has no caps on compensatory damages in a personal injury case except in medical malpractice suits.
Section 3333.2 of the California Civil Code limits non-economic damages related to medical malpractice. The limit is up to $350,000 for cases that don’t involve wrongful death. Meanwhile, medical practice claims that resulted in wrongful death have $500,000 caps on non-economic damages.
Understanding the damages caps on your specific state is essential for maximizing the amount recoverable in your personal injury claim.
How can a personal injury lawyer help maximize your compensatory damages?
Facing the aftermath of an accident can be daunting. You will need to think carefully about your next course of action. Although being mindful of what you do after getting injured is essential, you must also prioritize your physical and emotional state.
If you don’t, the pain or distress can cloud your judgment. As a result, you will likely make decisions that could hurt your chances for full compensation. It is best to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer to handle your personal injury claim.
A well-versed personal injury lawyer can help you navigate the complex legal process. They can help you better understand your rights, properly evaluate your case, and act as a negotiator between you and the other party or insurance company.
Lawyers also have resources to collect evidence and can make the proper documentation to determine and prove the liability of negligent parties. Overall, they can help you build a strong case and maximize your claim for damages.
Did you know?
Fatal and non-fatal injuries from road accidents are projected to cost the global economy approximately $1.8 trillion from 2015 to 2030 (in 2010 USD).
Obtain Full Compensation With an Experienced Attorney
The financial repercussions of unintentional injuries can be devastating. While you have the right to secure compensation from those at fault, navigating a personal injury claim alone can come with numerous challenges.
Insurers use different tricks and tactics to minimize liability and the amount plaintiffs can recover. Since injured victims don’t have sufficient knowledge of their legal rights and options, many often settle low or lose their claim altogether.
Working with an experienced attorney is the best way to obtain total compensation for your injuries and losses. These legal professionals know how to deal with uncooperative insurance companies and negotiate the maximum compensation you legally deserve.
Find the best attorney specializing in your case with the help of The Personal Injury Center. We offer a free consultation where we assess your case and connect you to a law firm with competent personal injury lawyers.
Secure the maximum amount of your compensatory damages. Find a competent attorney through The Personal Injury Center.
FAQs on Compensatory Damages
What distinguishes punitive damages from compensatory damages?
Also known as exemplary damages, punitive damages focus on the defendant's behavior instead of the plaintiff's economic and non-economic losses. Unlike compensatory damages, its purpose is to punish the outrageous misconduct of the defendant.
Punitive damages also aim to discourage the at-fault parties and others from repeating similar behavior. However, they are not always recoverable and only apply to specific situations where the defendant acted intentionally to cause harm.
How can the length of recovery impact the amount of your compensation?
Severely injured individuals may need more time to recover. They may be unable to return to work or need extensive medical treatments and expensive prescription drugs. Their bills and losses can pile up as they try to recover, leading to higher compensation.
Do you have to pay taxes on compensatory damages?
Under Section 104 of the Internal Revenue Code, damages received to compensate for losses attributed to physical injuries are excluded from gross income and exempt from taxes. But it's crucial to consider the facts and circumstances with an experienced lawyer and accountant. They can help determine the tax-exempt status of one's compensatory damages.