How Are Damages Assessed in a Personal Injury Case?
Calculating damages is one of the most important steps of any personal injury case. Assessing damages answers the question: What is my personal injury case worth?
In order to fully and accurately assess damages, a personal injury lawyer will need to allocate significant time to investigating the cause of the incident and its effect on your life. A strong claim will be able to prove that another party’s negligence caused your injuries and will provide enough evidence to support your right to maximum compensation.
Let’s look in more detail at how damages are assessed in a personal injury case.
How Damages Are Calculated in a Personal Injury Case
The term “damages” in personal injury law refers to the financial award the at-fault party owes to the injured party for causing them harm. To assess damages, an attorney will add up all the losses (both financial and non-financial) the plaintiff has suffered as a result of their personal injury.
Damages are assessed based on certain factors related to your case, including:
- What caused the accident
- The actions of the at-fault party
- The severity of your injuries
- How your employment and future employment were impacted
- If you suffered permanent disability
- The pain, suffering, and emotional trauma you endured
- If fatality was involved
- Whether your case settles out of court or proceeds to trial
- Other factors
As you might guess, assigning an appropriate value to all of these things is a difficult task, one which requires experience and training. Personal injury lawyers with the most expertise, dedication, and skill are usually the ones who are successful in helping their clients obtain fair compensation.
Thinking about damages related to a personal injury case can be rather abstract. We’ll discuss a few examples of damages in personal injury cases that can give you a better idea of what you may be entitled to in your own case.
Common Examples of Damages in Personal Injury Cases
Many people discuss damages as having only one type, but there are actually two separate types of damages that are awarded for different purposes:
- Compensatory damages
- Punitive damages
Damages that are compensatory (intended to compensate the victim) are further broken down into two broad categories: economic damages and non-economic damages.
The economic category covers financial losses, while the non-economic category addresses non-tangible, non-financial injuries. You can think of compensatory damages as working to make the person whole again, to restore them to the health, emotional wellbeing, and financial security that was taken from them through another person’s negligence.
Examples of Economic Damages
Whether you’re discussing a car accident, slip and fall injury, medical malpractice, or other type of personal injury case, there are a few types of economic compensatory damages that are most common. These include:
- Medical bills (including hospital visits, ambulance fees, doctor’s appointments, imaging and blood tests, physical therapy, prescription medications, medical devices, and other expenses)
- Property damage (such as the cost to repair or replace a vehicle or other valuable personal items)
- Lost wages (for the amount of time taken off work to recover, often including benefits that would have been accrued during that time period)
- Lost earning capacity (if the injury caused a permanent disability that prevents a return to the same position or to a position of equal earning potential)
- Transportation costs (such as a rental car or public transportation costs after vehicle damage, and gas or other transportation costs to doctor’s and specialist’s appointments)
- Domestic services (including cleaning services, food delivery, child care, pet-sitting, in-home nursing care, and other services to help complete daily tasks after injury)
The economic damages in a wrongful death case may look somewhat different. Because a wrongful death claim is filed by surviving family members on behalf of a person killed by negligence, these damages cover different kinds of losses. Funeral and burial costs, expenses related to end-of-life services, medical expenses for attempts at life-saving care, lost inheritance, and lost financial support are common in wrongful death claims.
Examples of Non-Economic Damages
Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages cannot be assessed by adding up bills. Non-economic losses are much less concrete. Most personal injury attorneys employ a formula (such as the multiplier method or daily rate method) that helps put a numerical value on these life-changing losses.
Examples of non-economic damages in a personal injury case might include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional anguish
- Permanent disability
- Damage to reputation
- Loss of consortium
- Other emotional losses related to a loved one’s passing in a wrongful death case
A strong attorney-client relationship is particularly important when it comes to calculating non-economic damages. A trustful bond allows your legal representative to get a fuller image of how your life was impacted by your injury. And it allows you to feel more comfortable discussing some of the more personal and sensitive matters related to your injury.
For example, if you do not feel that you can speak candidly with your attorney, you may not be willing to open up about some of the mental health struggles you have suffered post-accident. Without knowledge of these damages, your legal counsel won’t be able to help you seek compensation for them.
The damages discussed above are compensatory damages, awarded with the goal of compensating what the plaintiff lost due to their injury. But there is another distinct category of damages that is applied for a different purpose. Punitive damages are awarded as a way to punish the defendant.
The goal of punitive damages is to deter the defendant (and others) from engaging in the same type of actions again in the future. It is a way to say: This behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated. In a way, punitive damages “make an example” of the defendant and, for this reason, are also called “exemplary damages.”
Punitive damages are rare in personal injury cases. Only a very small percentage of cases will award punitive damages to the plaintiff. These damages must be applied by the court and are reserved for instances of only the most extreme harmful behavior.
Each state has different laws governing when punitive damages may be applied. Many states also have laws that cap the maximum amount that can be awarded in punitive damages.
In Georgia, exemplary damages may only be applied when it can be proven by “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant acted in a way that demonstrated “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” Additionally, Georgia law caps most punitive awards at a maximum of $250,000, but there are several notable exceptions to this rule.
Punitive damages are not something you can seek on your own by filing an insurance claim. You will need to work closely with a Georgia personal injury lawyer to determine if they apply to your case.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Assess Damages in Your Case
It’s not easy for a person without legal experience to assess the full value of their personal injury case on their own. And they should not be expected to. The role of a personal injury lawyer is to guide clients through complex legal matters—like calculating damages.
If you’re wondering how much your personal injury claim is worth, speak to a lawyer right away. The insurance company will always assign you a lower value than you deserve. If you want to make sure all your current, past, and future losses are covered, find an attorney who is willing to put in the effort to see that you get full and fair compensation.
Contact Bey & Associates Atlanta personal injury law firm for a free case evaluation today. There is no cost to learn how much your injury claim may be worth.
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