Personal injury cases are worth damages, compensation for the monetary, physical, mental, and emotional costs of injuries to claimants or plaintiffs according to the status of the personal injury case. Defendant persons or entities responsible and liable for the injuries must pay the damages. The parties can negotiate a settlement providing for damages, or a judge or jury may order an award of damages after a trial on the facts of the case.
Most personal injury damages are compensatory in that they compensate the injured plaintiff for the costs of the injury. A compensatory damages award is to make the injured plaintiff whole again as much as possible monetarily by assessing in dollars all the harmful consequences of the incident causing the injuries.
Special damages for costs of medical treatment, any income lost to time away from at work, property damage from the incident, and other out-of-pocket losses are easy to quantify. General damages for pain and suffering, physical discomfort, mental anxiety, stress, and similar harmful injury effects and impacts on daily life aren’t so easy.
So compensatory damages to reimburse property damage and medical bills are easy to assess. Pain and suffering and inability to pursue pastimes and hobbies because of physical limitations from injuries are harder.
Compensatory damages common to many personal injury cases:
- Medical Treatment. Personal injury damages always compensate plaintiffs for medical costs of their injuries, reimbursement for treatment already received and compensation for estimated costs of future, related treatment.
- Lost Income. Plaintiffs may be entitled to compensation for impacts of injuries on their salaries and wages, not only income already lost but also future income they otherwise would have but for the injuries. Damages for lost future income is compensation for loss of earning capacity.
- Property Loss. Vehicles, clothing, and other personal property damaged or destroyed entitles injured plaintiffs to reimbursement for repair or replacement costs for the fair market value of the property.
- Pain and Suffering. Injured plaintiffs may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering from their injuries and for ongoing pain related to them.
- Emotional Distress. Usually caused by major incidents, emotional distress damages compensate plaintiffs for psychological impacts of fear, anxiety, and insomnia. Some states categorize emotional distress under pain and suffering.
- Loss of Enjoyment. When injuries by negligence or intent disable plaintiffs from enjoying hobbies, exercises, and recreational activities, there may be entitlements to damages for loss of such customary enjoyments.
- Loss of Consortium. These damages relate to the effects of injuries on loss of companionship or inability to maintain sexual relations in spousal relationships. Some states consider separate impacts injuries may have on relationships between parents and their children. Some cases award loss of consortium damages to the family members affected rather than to the injured plaintiffs.
Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases
When defendant misconduct is egregiously or outrageously careless, personal injury plaintiffs may recover punitive in addition to compensatory damages. The rationale for punitive damages is quite different from that for compensatory damages to make injured plaintiffs whole by restoring their losses.
The purpose of punitive damages is to punish defendants for willful, wanton, and reckless misconduct and to deter them and others so inclined from similar future misdeeds. Punitive damage awards may exceed tens of millions of dollars, so most states have set caps on them.
Effects of Plaintiff (In)actions on Damages Awards
Plaintiff negligence as part of a compound cause of an injury or plaintiff failure to act after the injury can diminish the amount of damages recoverable:
- Comparative Negligence. If partially at fault for the incident that caused the injuries, a plaintiff’s award of damages probably will reflect that fact. Most states follow a rule of comparative negligence awarding damages according to relative degrees of fault between or among parties.
- Contributory Negligence. In the few states that follow the rule of contributory negligence, plaintiffs may not recover any compensation at all if partially at fault for the incident.
- After the Incident. The law in most states requires injured plaintiffs to act reasonably to minimize or mitigate the financial impacts of their injuries. If injured plaintiffs inexcusably fail to arrange for medical treatment for injuries or to cooperate with treatment providers, they may recover damages significantly reduced on findings of bad-faith malingering.