What Damages Are Available in Personal Injury Lawsuits?
While the criminal law system exists to punish wrongdoers, the civil law system is designed to compensate victims. Personal injury is the area of civil law that seeks to compensate injured plaintiffs for the harm caused by a defendant’s careless, reckless, or deliberate acts or omissions. The law uses the term “damages” to describe both the category of harm and the amount of monetary compensation an injured plaintiff receives. Damages fall into two major categories: economic damages (also called specific damages) and noneconomic damages (also called general damages).
Economic damages are losses of a monetary nature you incur as a result of your injuries. These include:
- Medical expenses — Costs of all reasonable and necessary treatment related to injuries the defendant caused.
- Rehabilitation expenses — Costs associated with overcoming or learning to live with a disability due to the injuries.
- Lost income — Wages and benefits lost because you could not report to work, as well as future lost earnings because you can no longer work or earn at the same level you did before your injury.
- Cost of accommodating a disability — Parties with permanent injuries may incur the expense of remodeling a home or purchasing a custom automobile so they can function with a disability.
Many economic losses are easily documented, but items such as future medical expenses and future lost income are more speculative. Plaintiffs generally consult financial experts to project these losses over time.
Noneconomic damages are real but intangible losses that have a negative impact on your quality of life. These include:
- Physical pain — Conscious pain from the moment of the injury event throughout the plaintiff’s life
- Mental suffering — Emotional anguish caused by the injury event, ranging from depression to night terrors
- Loss of quality of life — A general reduction in well-being and happiness due to the physical limitations and challenges an injury imposes
- Loss of enjoyment of life — Diminished existence due to the plaintiff’s inability to participate in activities he or she used to enjoy, such as dancing, playing a musical instrument, or holding a child
- Loss of consortium — Emotional loss associated with the inability to have sexual relations with a spouse due to an injury
Noneconomic damages are very hard to quantify. Lawyers rely on experience in similar cases to gauge how much a particular injury “might be worth” at trial and in settlement negotiations. Here again, consultations with experts such as medical doctors and psychiatrists is critical. Testimony from family members and close associates is also important to establish how much an injury has impacted a plaintiff’s life.
A third category, punitive or exemplary damages, is only available in rare cases where a defendant’s conduct in causing an injury has been particularly outrageous. Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant’s egregious conduct and discourage others from behaving in a like manner.
If you have been wrongly injured, your goal in your lawsuit is to obtain the maximum damage amount possible under the facts of your case. The experienced personal injury lawyers at Rudberg Law Offices, LLC can help. Call 412-488-6000 or contact our Pittsburgh office online to schedule a free consultation.