What Damages May You Normally Recover for Personal Injuries in Litigation?
Whether you are injured in a motor vehicle collision, by a defective product, or by a hazardous condition on another’s property, you may typically recover two types of damages for your injuries in litigation, whether awarded by a jury at the conclusion of a trial or by a settlement.
The first type of damages is what the law refers to as “general” damages. These include your past and future damages for physical pain and suffering caused by your injuries, the past and future damages for your emotional distress caused by your injuries, and the past and future damages for loss of enjoyment of life caused by your injuries.
The first category of these damages is easily understood. Because all of us, or certainly most of us, have suffered some type of physical injury in our life, we know injuries are often accompanied by feelings of actual pain, at least for some length of time. But in addition to such feelings of physical pain, we may also suffer mental anguish, which is known as emotional distress. For instance, if you were injured in a traumatic fashion, such as that of many motor vehicle collisions, you may have flashbacks of the collision or nightmares about the collision. These events would constitute emotional distress. Additionally, you may worry about whether you will ever fully recover from your physical injuries or whether you will be able to continue to work and financially support your family and/or yourself. All these types of worries also constitute emotional distress. As to the last category of general damages, damages for loss of enjoyment of life involve damages you may recover for limitations or restrictions on your ability to engage in activities of daily living, as well as hobbies and activities you normally enjoy doing as part of your life.
Before turning to the other type of damages, i.e., “special” damages, a few other points should be discussed. First, if you are married, your spouse may have a claim for past and future loss of consortium to compensate her or him for those activities you normally engage in with them but can no longer do (at least for some period) because of your injuries and related damages. Second, to recover for past and future damages for any of these categories of general damages, you will need a medical expert, such as a physician, psychiatrist, or other relevant specialist to testify to a reasonable degree of medical probability that the event at issue caused your physical injuries and the resultant general damages. And, to recover for future general damages, you will need such an expert to testify to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that your injuries and resultant damages are permanent in nature or will at least last for some specific period of time in the future. Third, during any trial, your lawyer will not be able to place a specific dollar amount on these general damages for purposes of influencing the amount of the jury’s award. Rather, the dollar amount for compensation for these general damages will remain within the complete discretion of the jury (if it awards an objectively reasonable sum that is not outrageous in amount). This latter point is the main distinction between “general” and “special” damages.
Turning now to “special” damages, these are the categories of past and future damages for which your attorney will be able to place a dollar amount on for the benefit of assisting the jury to reach a fair verdict amount, normally with the help of experts, including medical and related specialists and economists. These damages most often involve damages for the amount of your past and future medical and related bills and your past and future loss of wages/income and related earnings. As with general damages, you will be able to recover your past “special” damages if a medical expert testifies your injuries were caused by the event in question to a reasonable degree of medical probability. You will be entitled to request recovery for future “special” damages if a medical expert also testifies to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that your injuries and related damages are permanent in nature or will at least last for some specific period in the future. Your attorney will then likely use a financial expert, such as an economist, to testify to the actual dollar value of the future damages reduced to a present value based upon relevant economic calculations. Of course, defendants will be entitled to present their own experts to contest whether your injuries and damages were caused by the event in question to a reasonable degree of medical probability, whether your injuries are permanent in nature or will last for some period into the future to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, and the actual amount of any future damages to which you may be entitled.