You got home from the emergency department or your doctor’s office for treatment of injuries you got in a car crash or other type of accident caused by the negligence of someone else, and the first thing you did was go online to find out what you could do about it. What you undoubtedly saw was the use of the word “damages” for what you could expect to recover in a lawsuit.
The fact that you’re here means you’re looking for an explanation about damages. You may be even more confused if you also saw the words “economic,” “non-economic,” and “punitive.” Relax, because you’ve come to the right place to learn about recovering damages in a personal injury case, and the different types of damages, including economic, non-economic and punitive, that courts may award.
What are damages in a personal injury case?
When someone’s reckless, intentional, or careless behavior causes you to be injured, you have the right under the law of the state where the incident occurred to be made whole again. The way the personal injury laws accomplish this is by awarding compensation for the losses or damages you incurred.
For example, if you were injured when a vehicle driven by a distracted motorist crashed into your car, you may have paid bills for the medical care you required and lost wages from being unable to work while recuperating from your injuries. The lost wages and medical expenses are damages, but there are different categories of damages depending on the type of loss you incurred.
Economic, non-economic and punitive damages
The three categories of damages that you may recover as compensation in a personal injury claim are economic, non-economic and punitive damages. Economic damages compensate you for the actual financial losses that you have or will incur from being injured by the at-fault party.
Economic, which you also may hear referenced as special damages, include the following:
- Medical expenses that you paid or will be responsible to pay up to the settlement of your claim or its trial.
- Anticipated future medical expenses for surgeries or other forms of medical treatment that your doctors expect that you will need in the future to treat your injuries.
- Lost wages or earnings from being out of work as a result of the accident.
- Loss of future earnings related to losses you may be reasonably expected to incur from being unable to return because of the lingering effects of the injuries that you sustained.
- Diminished future earning capacity is similar to lost future earnings except that your injuries allow you to return to work, but they do not permit you to return on a full-time basis or only allow you to do another type of work that does not pay as much.
- Damage to real or personal property caused by an accident, including damage to your car or damage to your home.
Other types of economic damages that you may be entitled to recover depending on the severity of your injuries may include the cost of housekeeping services or at-home nursing care.
The physical pain and emotional suffering that you must endure because of the injuries caused by another person are damages that you may sue to recover, but they are non-economic general damages. Non-economic damages are more subjective and, therefore, more difficult to prove than economic damages that can be proven with a receipt, an invoice or a canceled check.
Non-economic damages are subjective and more difficult to prove than by producing proof of payment. Typical non-economic damages that you may be entitled to recover in a personal injury lawsuit include the physical and emotional pain and suffering caused by the physical and mental harm that was caused to you in an accident.
Other forms of non-economic damages include loss of enjoyment of life when the lingering effects of injuries suffered in an accident prevent you from engaging in the types of activities that you enjoyed, including spending time with your family. Your spouse may be entitled to make a claim for loss of comfort,companionship, and consortium because your injuries prevented you from engaging in normal physical activities of married life.
Punitive damages are not as common in personal injury cases because the purpose of awarding them is to punish someone for egregious conduct. Intentionally causing harm to another person, such as a criminal assault, may be the type of behavior rising to a level requiring an award of damages to punish the wrongdoer.
Learn more about personal injury damages
If you have been injured in an accident caused by the negligent, reckless or intentional behavior of another person, you may be entitled to recover damages for your losses. A consultation with a Bend personal injury attorney offers you an opportunity to learn what rights you have and how to enforce them against the at-fault party.