How Much is Your Case Worth?
A Look at Damages in Personal Injury Cases
When considering a personal injury lawsuit a common question arises, “What is my case worth?” Each case is unique because of individual factors but the answer comes down to damages– determining what your injuries have cost you monetarily, physically, mentally, and, in some cases, whether the defendant’s actions were severe enough to warrant additional punishment.
In a personal injury case, damages are paid to the injured person (known as the plaintiff) by the person or company who is found to be legally responsible (known as the defendant or insurer). Damages can be awarded in a couple of different ways: an award can be agreed upon after a settlement negotiated by the parties involved, insurance companies, or attorneys. Or, an award may be granted by a judge or jury following a court trial.
Compensatory Damages in Personal Injury Cases
Most personal injury damages are considered “compensatory”. This type of damage award is meant to make the injured plaintiff “whole again” from a monetary standpoint. In some cases compensatory damages are easy to determine such as when a car is damaged in an accident, for example. But, other injuries are harder to place monetary value on, like pain and suffering or the inability to enjoy hobbies because of long-term accident-related injuries.
There are many types of compensatory damages. Here is a short explanation of the more common types in a personal injury case.
- Medical Treatment: Personal injury cases almost always award the cost of medical care associated with the accident, reimbursement for treatment already received, and compensation for any future medical care that will be needed as a result of the accident.
- Income: You may be entitled to compensation for the accident’s impact on your wages. Not only are you entitled to income you have already lost but also potentially money you would have been able to earn in the future had it not been for your injuries. This is known as “loss of earning capacity”.
- Property Loss: You will likely be entitled to reimbursement for any items that were damaged or compensation for the fair market cost of an item if it is lost.
- Pain and Suffering: You may be entitled to compensation for pain and serious discomfort caused to you as a result of an injury.
- Emotional Distress: These damages may be awarded if a person suffers any psychological impact including fear, anxiety, and sleep loss as a result of an accident or injury.
- Loss of Enjoyment: when injuries keep you from enjoying day-to-day activities like hobbies, exercise, or other recreational activities, you may qualify for loss of enjoyment damages.
Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases
Punitive damages result when a defendant has acted extremely poorly and compensatory damages are not considered enough of a punishment. Punitive damages can be awarded to a plaintiff in addition to compensatory damages and are intended to punish the defendant further in order to deter any future similar behavior.
How Plaintiff’s Actions (or Inaction) Can Affect a Lawsuit
In some situations an injured person’s role in the accident, or inaction after being injured, can lower the amount awarded in a personal injury case.
If you are even partially at fault in the accident that caused your injuries, most likely your award will be lessened as most states follow a “comparative negligence” standard that links damages to degree of fault. A few states follow a “contributory negligence” standard for personal injury cases, which means you may not be able to recover any damages at all if you are found to be partially to blame for the accident.
If you fail to mitigate the financial impact of the harm caused by an accident you may be awarded significantly less in damages for your case. This means, if an injured plaintiff fails to get necessary immediate medical treatment which in turn makes the injuries worse, the damage award can be greatly reduced.
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