A personal injury damages a plaintiff’s emotional health, physical health, or both. Mental health injuries include emotional pain and anguish sustained by an accident, while physical injuries include injuries to organs, limbs, or other parts of the anatomy. The injury does not need to manifest itself instantly, and may develop over time.
A court may award the plaintiff money damages for personal injury. In some cases, the events which form the basis of a personal injury claim may also form the basis of criminal charges. An example of this would be how a defendant may face a civil lawsuit for assault, as well as a criminal assault and battery charge.
Examples of what could form the basis of a personal injury claim include:
- Accidents and injuries;
- Construction accidents;
- Dog bites and animal attacks;
- Defective products (class action);
- Elder abuse;
- Nursing home abuse;
- Premises liability;
- Product liability injury;
- Toxic exposure (class action);
- Unsafe drugs (class action); and
- Wrongful death;
A personal injury may occur intentionally, such as when a defendant deliberately injures a victim, or intends to commit an act that results in injury to another person. Examples of intentional injury include when a defendant commits battery, assault, or false imprisonment.
A personal injury may also occur unintentionally. If an unintentional injury is the result of someone’s negligence, the plaintiff may file a lawsuit based on the negligent behavior. Automobile accidents, slip and fall accidents, and injuries sustained from medical malpractice are common examples of unintentional personal injury.
What Are Compensatory Damages?
In personal injury claims, when the injured party files, they are generally requesting some form of financial compensation from the party that is responsible for causing the accident. These are also known as compensatory damages, as they are compensating the plaintiff for the injuries that they suffered.
Compensatory damages are awarded for the purpose of restoring the injured person or party to the position they were in before the harm or loss occurred. Generally speaking, there are two main types of compensatory damage awards: special damages, and general damages.
As was previously mentioned, special damages are intended to restore the injured party to the position they were before the harm or injury occurred. This generally includes damages that can be calculated, such as:
- Medical expenses;
- Property damage;
- Loss of wages or earnings; and
- Other quantifiable losses.
General damages may be awarded for losses that are not easily determined through monetary calculations. These include losses associated with emotional distress, defamation, or loss of consortium or companionship. State laws vary in terms of how compensatory damages are awarded and regulated. An example of this would be how some states place limits on compensatory damages, especially general damages.
In order to receive compensatory damages, the plaintiff must prove that a loss has in fact occurred, and that it was caused by the other party. That is, they must show that the defendant’s conduct is what caused their loss or injury.
What Else Should I Know About Compensatory Damages?
Compensatory damages may be awarded for a wide range of personal injury cases, as most injury cases will be resolved through some sort of compensatory damages awarded.
Some examples of the most common types of claims in which compensatory damages are awarded include:
- Car accident claims;
- Slip and fall cases;
- Medical malpractice and other forms of malpractice;
- Assault, battery, and other types of torts;
- Dog bite cases and other animal attack claims; and
- Injuries caused by defective or dangerous products.
When calculating compensatory damages, courts will consider a wide range of factors related to the case. These factors can include:
- The background of the victim, such as their age;
- The type of injury sustained, as well as the extent of the injury;
- Costs associated with treating or rehabilitating the plaintiff;
- Any differences or losses in the victim’s ability to earn a wage before and after the incident;
- Actual losses of income;
- Whether any property damage resulted from the accident; and
- Any other impacts on the victim’s quality of life.
To reiterate, there may be some circumstances in which a plaintiff’s damages award may be reduced or limited. An example of this would be how if the plaintiff somehow contributed to their own injury, it can affect the amount of damages that they can collect under contributory negligence laws.
How Do I Collect My Court Judgment?
Receiving a compensatory damages award from the court, and actually collecting the money, can be two distinct processes. If a defendant is required to pay the plaintiff a damages award, the court will generally order them to pay the amounts. However, the defendant may be unable or unwilling to pay the damages. In such cases, the plaintiff’s attorney can take steps to gather the money from the defendant, such as placing a lien on their property or garnishing some of their wages.
Additionally, interest may accumulate on the damages award until it is paid in full. This could provide some incentive for the defendant to pay the compensatory damage award amounts as quickly as possible.
If you win a case against a reputable business or individual, most will pay without issue. If your debtor refuses to pay, the court will not collect your judgment for you, nor will they provide you with much help. Some ways in which to collect what you are owed, depending on what you know about your debtor, include:
- Wait until the appeal deadline has passed, generally thirty days.
- Try to collect the judgment on your own, as a bill collector can take a large percentage of the amount in fees. Sometimes your lawyer has an interest in collecting the fee, and you can work together in order to collect it.
- A number of debtors will pay once a court judgment has been issued. If they do not, you can politely remind them that an unpaid debt will show up on their credit report, and that you plan to take legal measures to collect if they do not pay.
- Consider settling for less, such as when the debtor wants to pay a substantial part immediately or offers to pay in installments.
- If the debtor is willing to pay but does not have the money, try to make some suggestions. There might be resources that the debtor has not considered.
- Pursue easy-to-reach assets first. This would include garnishing wages, placing liens against real estate, seizing bank accounts, or intercepting money paid to a debtor’s business. It is considerably more difficult to force the sale of a debtor’s house, vehicle, business assets, or personal property.
- Keep track of the debtor, as the more you know about the person or the business who owes you money, the more likely you are to get your money.
- Try to collect before other creditors learn of your plans. If you are collecting from an account in which the debtor’s salary is deposited, you should collect on the day when the salary is deposited.
- You can report the judgment to a credit-reporting agency. In some cases, bad credit can result in someone losing their license, if the debtor is a contractor.
- Most judgment collection costs are recoverable. However, if you cannot collect anything from the debtor, you will not get these costs either.
You can give the sheriff or local official, also known as the levying officer, information about where the judgment debtor works or the debtor’s bank account number. The levying officer collects money from the employer or account, and gives it to you.
Do I Need A Lawyer To Help Collect My Court Judgment?
Every state authorizes you to collect interest on a judgment, generally 6 to 8% annually. Additionally, you will need to remember to renew your judgment, as your original judgment is valid from 3 to 20 years.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can assist you in the process of collecting your court judgment, especially if they are the attorney that won the case for you.