Personal injury claims are legal actions where a person has suffered physical, mental, emotional injuries or property damages. These losses typically spring from some sort of accident. If the injured party files a claim or lawsuit, then they will generally be 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 receiver for the injuries they suffered. 

When are You Awarded Compensatory Damages?

As stated above, compensatory damages are typically awarded for the purpose of restoring the injured person or party (the “plaintiff”) to the position they were before the harm or loss occurred. Thus, compensatory damages are awarded in cases where damages, injury, or loss has occurred. 

Generally speaking, there are two main types of compensatory damage awards: Special damages and general damages:

  • 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 can include losses connected with emotional distress, defamation, or loss of consortium or companionship.

State laws may vary with regard to compensatory damages. Some states may place limits on compensatory damages, especially general damages. 

What Do I Need to Prove to Get Compensatory Damages?

In order to receive compensatory damages, the plaintiff must prove several aspects of their claim. In most cases, they will be required to prove that a loss has in fact occurred, and that it was caused by the other party (the defendant). That is, they must show that the defendant’s conduct is what caused the loss or injury.

In most cases, the loss will usually be caused by some sort of negligence on the part of the defendant. An example of this is where the defendant’s negligent driving caused an accident that injured the plaintiff (for instance, if they were speeding). 

In order to prove your claim, you will want to preserve and gather various forms of evidence that can be used in court to support your case. These may include:

  • Statements from witnesses;
  • Photos or video connected with the accident or incident;
  • Various documents, such as medical bills or police records;
  • Physical evidence, such as broken glass, dents, or other damage; and
  • Any item or evidence that can help the court to calculate your damages.

What Types of Claims Receive Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages may be awarded in a wide range of personal injury cases; in fact, most (but not all) injury cases will be resolved through some sort of compensatory damages awarded. Some common types of claims where compensatory damages are awarded may 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. 

Again, many other claims can result in a compensatory damages award. Check with an attorney to see what the laws in your state cover regarding such awards. 

How are Compensatory Damages Calculated?

When calculating compensatory damages, courts will typically consider a wide range of factors related to the case. These can include:

  • The background of the victim, such as their age;
  • The type of injury 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.

There may be some circumstances where a plaintiff’s damages award may be reduced or limited. For instance, if the plaintiff somehow contributed to their own injury, it can affect the amount of damages they can collect under contributory negligence laws.

How Do I Collect Compensatory Damages?

Receiving a compensatory damages award from the court and actually collecting the money can be distinct processes. If a defendant is required to pay the plaintiff damages award, the court will usually order them to pay the amounts. 

There are situations (which can be quite common) where the defendant is unable or unwilling to pay the damages. In such cases, the plaintiff’s attorney may help with the collections process. They can take steps to gather the money from the defendant, such as placing a lien on their property or garnishing some of their wages. 

Interest may usually accumulate on the damages award until it is paid in full. This may provide some incentive for the defendant to pay the compensatory damage award amounts.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Want Compensatory Damages for a Personal Injury Claim?

Compensatory damages can be a complex legal matter. They require calculations which can sometimes be complicated, and may also differ by state. You may need to hire a personal injury attorney in your area if you have been injured and feel you are entitled to compensatory damages. Your attorney can advise you on your legal rights and options and can represent you during the court process.