FAQ: Damages in a Personal Injury Claim

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What is Covered by Damages in a Personal Injury Claim?

Most damages in a personal injury claim are compensatory damages- that is, they are intended to compensate the injured plaintiff for losses caused by their injuries.  Compensatory damages cover losses that are directly caused by the defendant’s conduct, such as:  hospital bills, cost of prescription medicines; medical expenses; cost of rehabilitation/therapy, etc.

In many personal injury claims, “special damages” are sometimes also available.  These are damages not directly caused by the defendant, but which are still connected to the defendant’s conduct.  Special damages can include:  lost wages; losses associated with property damage and repairs; losses of irreplaceable items; additional caretaking expenses, etc.

Finally, in some limited cases punitive damages awards may be available to the injured party.  These are intended to “punish” the defendant for conduct involving malicious intent or reckless disregard for the plaintiff’s safety.  However, punitive damages are usually only issued if a compensatory damage award is issued first. 

Are There any Maximum Limits for a Personal Injury Damages Award?

Usually not- however, some states impose maximum limits, or “caps” for personal injury damages awards (especially for punitive damages).  These are typically limited to two or three times the amount that the plaintiff receives in their compensatory damages award.  Overall, damages in a personal injury claim must be reasonable and easily calculable. 

Also, some states place limits on medical malpractice awards.  This is to help reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits that are often filed in the area of medical malpractice.

How do Prior Injuries Affect my Damages Award?

A prior injury or “pre-existing medical condition” will usually not disqualify a person from receiving damages in a personal injury claim.  However the amount of the award can sometimes be reduced in proportion to the pre-existing injury. 

For example, if the accident only served to aggravate a prior shoulder sprain, the court would take this into consideration when issuing the damages award.  The damages award wouldn’t be completely eliminated, only reduced.  The injured party has a duty to disclose prior injuries during the personal injury lawsuit.

Which Factors are Considered When a Court Issues a Damages Award?

When calculating damages in a personal injury claim, the court will consider several factors involved in the case.  These can include:

What does “Mitigating Damages” Mean?

“Mitigating damages” refers to the injured party’s obligation to reduce damages.  For example, the plaintiff is usually advised to seek and receive medical treatment if necessary, and to avoid activities that might make the injuries worse. 

The plaintiff usually doesn’t have to go completely out of their way to mitigate damages, but must follow the normal, reasonable response to a personal injury.  For example, if they refuse to undergo a routine surgery for an injury, a court may order a reduction of the damages award.

Also, in some jurisdictions the plaintiff’s damages award may be reduced through a “contributory negligence” defense.  This is where the plaintiff was negligent in some way and contributed to their own injury (like if they ran a red light in a car accident).  The applications of contributory negligence and other defenses will vary by region. 

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Questions About Damages in a Personal Injury Claim?

If you have any questions about damages in a personal injury claim, it’s to your advantage to contact and hire a personal injury lawyer in your area.  A qualified attorney can assist you in answering legal questions, filing a lawsuit in court, and obtaining the proper damages award.

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Last Modified: 03-06-2012 04:44 PM PST

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