Types Of Compensatory Damages
Compensatory damages are meant to offset an injury sustained by an individual.
Actual damages, or damages which reimburse an individual for out-of-pocket expenses,
include monetary awards for medical expenses, property damage, and loss of income.
General damages may also be awarded for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss
of consortium, and lost opportunity for the future enjoyment of life.
Serious injuries incur hefty medical bills; therefore, an injured person's
medical expenses constitute a significant portion of the damages to which
he or she is entitled. Logic would dictate that the greater the amount of
money owed for physician's services, the greater the damages are to be sought.
Future medical costs must also be factored into compensatory damages in the
case of a long-term injury requiring significant rehabilitation or on-going
treatment. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to select
the necessary experts to establish the need for future medical treatment as
well as clearly determine the value of the plaintiff's claim.
The plaintiff in a personal injury case may also be awarded damages for the
replacement or repair of any property harmed in an accident. Automobile damage,
for example, is a common occurrence in personal injury cases. In addition
to the costs of repair and loss of value to the car, a plaintiff may also
be able to receive compensation for damage to property contained within the
car as well as reimbursement for obtaining substitute transportation during
the repair period.
The valuation of property damage is a complicated process and may require
the opinion of an expert appraiser. This professional will determine whether
or not the property has been totally ruined or retains any salvage value whatsoever.
If the property is useless, damages can be requested in the amount of its
fair market value prior to the accident. If repair is an option, compensation
for loss of use by the owner can be added to the cost of the repair itself.
There are occasions when the cost to repair the property exceeds its replacement
value and the damages are still limited to the fair market value of the property
before loss. Other elements that can be factored into the property damage
equation are interest and loss of profit, particularly in those instances
in which the property is utilized in one's employment.
Loss of Income
If the injury sustained by the plaintiff prevents him or her from working,
compensation can be sought for the amount of money normally earned during
that time period, otherwise known as "lost wages." The injured person can
also claim lost wages for any absences due to medical treatment of the injury.
An injury severe enough to prevent a person from working for the remainder
of his or her life may allow for damages to cover the loss of one's future
earnings. Finally, if a person dies due to an accident, family members can
choose to sue for the lost income that the victim would have earned based
on his or her age and current salary. Logically, a younger person has longer
work-life expectancy and would therefore have a greater loss of future earnings
in the event of an untimely death.
Pain and Suffering
The most personal element of an injured person's experience is the amount
of physical pain and suffering which he or she must endure. Each individual's
tolerance for pain is different which makes the quantification of suffering
problematic, but certain factors can be measured accurately to document one's
discomfort level. For example, an experienced personal injury attorney will
be able to collect information from the medical practitioners involved in
the case regarding the amount of medication the injured person required, the
types and length of treatments necessary, and the duration of the recovery
period. In addition, the injured person's spouse and/or nearest friends and
relatives will be interviewed to ascertain the extent of change to the victim's
quality of life by comparing his or her condition and normal activities prior
to and after the accident. It is an integral part of a victim's case that
any enjoyment of life that has been reduced due to an accident be brought
forward and supported by witness testimony and evidence.
A person who suffers a more severe and painful injury that causes long-term
or even permanent impairment will clearly have a more valuable claim in a
personal injury case than an individual whose injuries are not as extensive.
If the injury is indeed permanently disabling, experienced counsel will seek
out expert testimony to support the victim's claim and help determine the
most suitable value of damages to be sought.
Mental Anguish and Emotional Distress
While mental anguish and emotional distress often exist concurrently with
pain and suffering, the former are distinct in that they refer to mental responses
to the trauma of a physical event. Common symptoms of mental anguish would
include terror, shock, apprehension, confusion, humiliation, and sorrow. To
try to stem the tide of personal injury lawsuits based solely upon mental
anguish and emotional distress, some states have instituted strict guidelines
such as the "zone of danger" test which takes into account how physically
close the plaintiff was to the accident. Another limit placed upon such cases
is the "physical manifestation rule" which requires that the emotional distress
experienced by the plaintiff be exhibited by physical reactions such as depression,
anxiety intense enough to cause ulcers, or loss of appetite and weight.
Loss of Consortium
Another type of damage that can be recovered in a case of severe and permanently
disabling injury is that of loss of consortium, which refers to the inability
of the victim to engage in the activities related to companionship with his
or her spouse or loved ones at the level he or she once enjoyed. Although
the damages awarded for loss of consortium are generally less than other types
of compensatory damages, they can be significant in tragic cases of accidents
which lead to severe impairment such as paraplegia.
Lost opportunity damages are sometimes recoverable in addition to the damages
sought for lost wages and loss of future earnings. These refer to a business
opportunity that has been precluded due to an accident. It is imperative that
the presentation of such a claim is supported clearly and not purely conjectural
as this could damage the credibility of the case as a whole and cause a jury
to reject the more substantial damages sought by the plaintiff.
Types of DamagesFactors Affecting Amount of Damages Awarded
Amount of Damages