The damages in a personal injury claim refer to the money you can legally seek to recover from the at-fault party. There are three categories of personal injury damages: special damages, general damages, and punitive damages.
Special and general damages are compensatory damages, meaning monetary compensation for the losses you’ve experienced as a result of the accident. Punitive damages are less common and only applicable when the defendant demonstrated extreme recklessness or willful wrongdoing. Let’s look at each category of damages in more detail.
The most straightforward damages to calculate are usually special damages, also known as economic damages. Each special damage has a specific dollar amount, often with receipts to prove it. The following are the most common types of special damages.
You can pursue compensation for any medical bills you’ve paid while treating injuries caused by an accident. This includes hospital bills, ambulance costs, emergency room expenses, and diagnostic testing fees. More serious injuries may involve surgery with physical therapy courses to prepare you for the surgeon’s table.
Therapy and rehabilitation costs are also significant in many cases, as are all the costs of your doctor’s visits, medication prescriptions, assistive equipment such as wheelchairs and walking canes, in-home care costs, and modifications to vehicles or your home to accommodate your injury. Even transportation costs to and from medical providers should be included. And when seeking wrongful death damages, family members often seek to claim any unreimbursed medical bills accrued during the treatment of the deceased victim.
Preparing to Prove Your Medical Expenses
To help prove these damages, make sure you keep meticulous records and receipts for any and all medical costs. A personal injury attorney can help you gather this evidence and also gain access to relevant hospital records if needs be.
Future Medical Expenses
In the case of long-lasting injuries, medical expenses might continue into the foreseeable future. Remember that once you’ve accepted a settlement, you can’t claim further compensation for the same accident. If your settlement sum runs out before your medical expenses do, you’ll be forced to pay the remaining bills out of your own pocket. For this reason, it’s essential to pursue compensation for future medical expenses in full.
Calculating the Future Costs of Medical Treatment
Predicting future medical costs is a trickier task than producing an existing doctor’s receipt. It usually takes an experienced personal injury lawyer to effectively evaluate and prove the monetary value of these future damages.
Working with your physician, your attorney needs to assess the probable effectiveness of treatment and any additional treatments that might be required should your condition improve or worsen. They will need to calculate the cost of treatment over your entire lifetime, adjusted for probable inflation. Along with letters from your medical practitioners, they will also often retain expert medical witnesses to attest to the value of these future expenses.
Most personal injury claims include damages for lost earnings due to the injury. You can seek to recover a lost salary or lost hourly wage and also lost commissions and bonuses. Lost personal days, sick days, and paid vacation days may sometimes also be recovered if you use them to visit your healthcare providers.
On top of this, any work-related benefits or perks that you missed out on may also be pursued in your damages. This could include lost stock options, insurance payments, retirement contributions, car and transportation allowance, free work canteen meals, and more. And in wrongful death claims, the plaintiff may be able to recover lost direct financial support from the deceased loved one, which counts as a form of lost earnings.
Lost Earning Capacity in the Future
As with medical care expenses, the lost income damages you pursue can extend into the future. If your earning capacity has been reduced or lost altogether because of your injury, it’s often advisable to seek full and fair compensation to save you from serious financial difficulties down the road.
Your attorney can help establish your claim’s damages for your lost earning capacity. To quantify and prove the monetary value of these future lost wages, you will need to produce pay stubs, an employer’s statement supporting your claim, and an equally detailed statement from your physician attesting to your incapacity to work. If your profession has a particularly high or complex payment structure, your attorney might arrange expert witness testimony to help prove your losses.
Most car accidents cause damage to your car, motorcycle, truck, or bicycle: and the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle needs to be recovered.
Any kind of property damage caused by someone else’s negligence can usually be included in the damages of a personal injury lawsuit. The value of this damage is often easier to prove than other kinds of damages as long as you’ve kept your receipts and the property is repaired or replaced at a fair market value.
During the aftermath of a car accident, victims frequently need to pay additional out-of-pocket expenses, which aren’t included in medical bills or property damage. You might have paid for a car-towing service, for example, if someone wasn’t able to drive your vehicle away from the scene while you were in the hospital. And while your damaged car was out of action, you are likely to have rented a car or paid for public transportation.
At the same time, your damaged car could be in storage, accruing an additional cost. And if you’re a parent, you might need to hire a childcare service to look after your children. For all these out-of-pocket expenses, you can seek financial compensation, provided the expenses are considered reasonable and necessary.
Loss of Household Services
Additional compensation can be pursued for any loss of household services. Our daily lives are filled with small but essential household tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, washing the dishes, and taking out the trash.
Some personal injury victims are left unable to perform these daily household services following an accident. In these cases, a household helper might need to be hired, especially if the victim lives alone. The victim can then pursue damages to recover these expenses.
In wrongful death claims, you can pursue compensation for two types of damages. For one, any losses the victim suffered before they passed away can usually be claimed by the plaintiff.
Also, the plaintiff can often claim damages for any losses they’ve personally suffered as a result of losing their loved one. This usually includes funeral and burial costs, plus many of the other special and general damages outlined in this article.
Following any accident, you also have general damages, sometimes known as non-economic damages. General damages are losses you have experienced that lack an exact monetary value. This includes losses like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life. These non-economic damages may be more subjective in value, but they are nonetheless very important and often comprise a significant amount of the final settlement.
The monetary value of general damages is determined on a case-by-case basis. Without legal guidance or know-how, inexperienced claimants are sometimes unaware that insurance plans even cover these types of losses. This is one reason why it’s critical to hire a good attorney who can understand which non-economic damages you have a right to, determine their value, and gather the evidence required to prove these damages in full.
Physical Pain and Suffering
Most personal injury claims include damages for physical pain and suffering. Emergency trips to the hospital usually involve some degree of physical pain, and you should certainly recover damages for the experience. The worst kinds of injuries leave the victim in a great deal of long-term pain, for which they can usually seek considerable compensation.
Pain following a car accident deserves compensation. Physical pain and the accompanying suffering can cause a great deal of disruption to someone’s quality of life.
Often considered a component of pain and suffering, emotional distress is also included in many personal injury claims. Emotional distress is sometimes referred to as mental anguish, meaning the negative psychological impact an accident and injury has on your life, which can evidence itself in numerous ways.
You might have experienced a great deal of stress and fear, for example. Or you may have lost sleep due to nightmares or worry over your health and finances. You might have developed ongoing anxiety, severe mood swings, sexual dysfunction, or depression. Public humiliation is also considered recoverable damage for emotional distress.
Proving Mental Anguish
Psychological distress varies between individuals and is highly subjective. It’s important to report any psychological problems you’re experiencing to your doctor. Following your accident, it’s also wise to keep a journal documenting your feelings day by day. All of this will help prove the full value of your mental distress damages.
After an accident, the victim might suffer physical impairment in some way. Impairment refers to a significant loss in body structure or function: one of your major body systems has been impaired, preventing you from functioning as usual.
Physical impairment might hinder your ability to walk, stand, run, exercise, climb, type, or pursue a hobby such as boxing, painting, or dancing. In more extreme cases, it might impede your ability to eat, dress, and look after your personal hygiene. The insurance company will often be expected to compensate you for these sorts of losses.
When an impairment prevents you from properly performing your work, you are suffering a disability. Disability damages are connected specifically to your job or income-earning activities. This is an important distinction, as not all impairment reduces someone’s ability to work. Both impairment and disability might be temporary or permanent.
Disfigurement or Deformity
Physical disfigurements such as scarring, nerve damage, or missing limbs serve as a permanent reminder of the traumatic event. A great deal of additional social and emotional harm can also be caused by disfigurement and deformity. As the victim, you can seek to recover financial compensation in your personal injury lawsuit for any alteration to your appearance at all.
Loss of Consortium
Our relationships, families, and social support structures are hugely important in our lives. When an accident tears that support structure apart, it can be devastating. Loss of consortium refers to this kind of social structure and relationship harm.
Loss of consortium is most commonly included in wrongful death damages, where the spouse and close relatives of the victim have had their lives torn apart by the loss of their loved one. But all types of personal injury cases can potentially leave the victim suffering social and relationship loss.
Loss of Enjoyment in Life
Non-economic damages also often include a loss of enjoyment in life. It’s a rare personal injury claim when the victim hasn’t had their quality of life disrupted in some way.
Specifically, loss of enjoyment in life refers to important pleasurable activities that you could do before the accident, but you now cannot do or enjoy in the same way. This is perhaps the most subjective of all the non-economic damages, as what an individual enjoys is very personal to them.
Proving Reduced Quality of Life
Proving this damage mostly depends on the testimony of the plaintiff, and sometimes also their spouse or someone else close to them. It can sometimes be difficult to have the court award damages for loss of enjoyment in life as you must prove that the injury directly caused your behavior change and that it was not caused by some other factor or change in preferences.
Nevertheless, claimants may successfully recover money for this loss. As with all general personal injury damages, your best chance of winning it is with an experienced attorney in your corner.
The third type of damage in personal injury cases is punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages. As the name suggests, the primary purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff. Punitive non-compensatory damages are more commonly sought in cases when the defendant is a corporation or organization rather than an individual.
As such, medical malpractice and product liability claims are more likely to see the defendant’s conduct punished with exemplary or punitive damages. But any personal injury claim may seek to recover punitive damages when the defendant can be proven to have acted with extreme recklessness, malice, or deliberate fraud.
Caps on Personal Injury Lawsuit Damages in Texas
It’s important to note that Texas law places certain limits on how much compensation you can claim. In a medical malpractice case, you can’t claim more than $250,000 in non-economic damages for each healthcare provider you’re suing. And there’s a maximum capped compensation of $750,000 for non-economic damages, no matter how many defendants there are in the case.
In cases where a Texan government entity is involved, all personal injury damages are capped at $250,000 per defendant and $500,000 of total damages if there’s more than one defendant. And in all types of personal injury cases in Texas, punitive damages are limited to either $200,000 or double the total economic damages, whichever figure is larger.
The Reason for Damage Caps
Many other states have similar caps on damages in personal injury lawsuits. These caps are intended to ensure that damages are used fairly, primarily with non-economic damages and punitive damages, which are more subjective in nature than specific economic damages. Without these caps, the damages claimed can become exorbitant.
Know the True Value of Your Personal Injury Claim
One reason why claimants usually earn far larger settlements when they hire an attorney is that an attorney knows what damages you do and don’t have a legal right to claim. Without the requisite legal know-how, claimants in all types of personal injury lawsuits struggle to estimate the true value of their damages.
Without proper legal guidance, accident victims tend to trust the insurance company as to the value of their claims. But this is usually a mistake. The insurance company is incentivized to minimize its payouts and persuade you that you aren’t entitled to as many compensatory damages as you actually deserve. Even if you adamantly push for a complete and fair settlement, it’s difficult to prove the value of many personal injury damages, especially predicted future expenses and general non-economic losses.
The Power of Attorneys in Personal Injury Cases
With an experienced personal injury law firm or sole practitioner attorney fighting your corner, you can quickly learn the full value of your claim. Your lawyer can gather evidence for all the harm you’ve caused, arrange expert witness testimony, prove the maximum value of your damages, and negotiate skillfully with the insurance company. They can also argue your case in court before a judge and jury if needs be.
An extensive study has found that victims who hire an attorney win three and a half times more in their final settlement than victims who try to handle their cases alone. One major reason for this is that experienced personal injury attorneys have a full understanding of the damages you deserve. They also have the skill, experience, contacts, and legal knowledge to prove the value of those damages to the full extent of the law.
Contact Houston Injury Lawyers, PLLC today at 936-251-5246 to learn the value of your claim in a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys are well-versed in Texan personal injury law and fight hard to maximize the damages of our clients and win the fair compensation they deserve.