Damages in a personal injury case
When you are injured by someone else’s negligence, you are generally entitled to be paid monetary damages for your injuries. While most people are likely aware of this fact, what many people may not know, is what type of damages are compensable and what kinds of expenses can be accounted for in compensable damages.
Damages in a personal injury case generally fall into two main categories:
- Special Damages. Special damages are awarded to pay for specific out of pocket costs the injured person has expended, or may need to expend, such as costs for medical bills, property damage repair bills, and physical therapy bills.
- General Damages. General damages are commonly referred to as damages for pain and suffering.
Although a personal injury case, other than a wrongful death case, is likely to resolve before the death of the injured person, the cost of future medical care necessitated by the accident can and should be included in the calculation for special damages. For example, in the case of a person who sustains a traumatic brain injury in a crash, and consequently needs round the clock care for the rest of their life, the cost of that care should be included in the special damages determination.
Special damages do not just include medical bills and property damage. Special damages can also include expenses such as the cost to make a home handicap accessible, or even the cost to build a home that is handicap accessible. In the case of severe injuries where a person’s lifestyle is completely turned upside down, a personal injury attorney can employ a life-care planner to provide an opinion about the types of care an injured person will need for the rest of their life, and the cost of that care.
While special damages are generally fairly easily calculated, and do not vary much from person to person so long as the people have the same injuries, general damages have no formula for determination, and can vary widely from one person to the next, even if both people have the same injuries. One way to look at general damages, is to consider them as compensable damages for a reduction in the quality of life.
It is not unreasonable to think that given the chance, a jury, when looking at two people with identical injuries, but completely different lifestyles, could award those people dramatically different awards for general damages. For example, when the jury sees a person who is paralyzed from the waist down by a car crash, and sees that before the crash that person smoked cigarettes often, lived alone, could go days at a time without talking to anyone else, and generally did little other than sit around the house and watch TV, and then sees the second person, also paralyzed from the waist down due to a car crash, but sees that person engaged with several other people each day, worked hard to support his family, spent a lot of time in activities outside the home with family and friends, and jogged 5 miles three times per week, it is not hard to see how a jury may consider the second person had a much larger impact on their life from the crash than the first person, and therefore, would award the second person a much large amount of general damages than the first person.