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The Basics of Damages

Calculating Money Owed (Damages) 

Once a plaintiff proves that a defendant has been negligent, the jury (or judge if there is no jury) must calculate the amount of money that would compensate the plaintiff. 

In certain circumstances, the legal dispute may be settled out of court, in which case the Defendant, their attorney or insurer (i.e. an insurance adjustor), will also use these principles in determining the value of Plaintiff’s case.

There are basically two types of damages a Plaintiff may pursue in a personal injury matter:

  1. Special Damages

  2. General Damages

Special Damages
Special Damages includes damages that are special to a specific injured party and are simple to calculate because there is usually a document that supports the damage.  For example, lost wages and medical bills are common special damages that are easy to calculate because there is typically a receipt for medical expenses or wage statements that can summarize the amount of the damage. 

In the lost wage example, you may be entitled to compensation for the accidents’ impact on your salary and wages -- not just income you have already lost but also the money you would have been able to make in the future were it not for the accident. In personal injury legalese, a damage award based on future income is characterized as compensation for an accident victim's "loss of earning capacity."

General Damages
General Damages, typically referred to as pain and suffering are much harder to calculate because it is hard to put a price on an individual’s suffering from an injury.  Judges do not give juries much in the way of guidelines for determining the value of pain and suffering in a personal injury lawsuit. There are no charts for juries to look at in order to figure out how much to award.

In most states, judges simply instruct juries to use their good sense, background, and experience in determining what would be a fair and reasonable figure to compensate for the plaintiff’s pain and suffering

Keep in mind that a plaintiff might receive reduced damages or no damages at all if he was partly responsible for his own injury. A Defendant will generally argue that Plaintiff either contributed to his injury and was also at fault.  This is known as Comparative negligence and Comparative fault.

Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases
Another type of damage that may be awarded in a personal injury action is punitive damages.  In cases where the defendant's conduct is deemed particularly egregious or outrageous, a personal injury plaintiff may be awarded punitive damages in addition to any compensatory damages award.

The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for his/her conduct and to act as a deterrent to prevent the responsible party and others from engaging in the harmful behavior in the future.

Click here for more on Understanding How Much your Personal Injury Case is Worth?

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