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Compensatory Damages in a Personal Injury Claim

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What is a "Personal Injury"?

Personal injury is a legal term for injuries to the body, mind, and/or emotions. The legal system permits an injured person to go to court to get a legal remedy for the losses stemming from the accident.

Typical personal injury cases are injuries stemming from automobile accidents, injuries occurring while the injured person was on another’s property, animal bites, defamation claims, construction accidents and injuries from defective products. Claimants that win a judgment in court are awarded pain and suffering damages.

What Are Compensatory Damages in a Personal Injury Claim?

In a personal injury lawsuit, compensatory damages are paid by the defendant to the victim to compensate them for losses caused by the personal injury. Compensatory damages may be awarded for a wide range of different losses.  

In some cases, compensatory damages can cover other damages that are a “reasonable consequence” of the defendant’s negligence. Each state may have different limits and rules regarding compensatory damage awards. In general, a judge or jury can exercise wide discretionary power when calculating and issuing compensatory damage awards.   

What Types of Claims Involve Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages are involved in many civil claims, including:

Depending on your type of claim, you may also be eligible for additional compensation, including punitive damages or liquidated damages

What Types of Losses Do Compensatory Damages Usually Cover?

Compensatory damages may be awarded in two different forms. First, “special damages” compensate the victim for their monetary losses. Secondly, “general damages” compensate the victim for non-monetary losses. 

General Compensatory Damages

While the specific rules may vary by jurisdiction, the following personal injury losses can be recovered through a compensatory damages award:

  • Medical Expenses and Cost of Medical Treatment: Compensatory damages usually cover the costs of hospital bills, medical treatment, prescription medicines, and other health care aspects
  • Lost Wages or Future Loss of Earnings: If the personal injury resulted in a loss of wages, these can be recovered through compensatory damages. In some cases the victim can also be compensated if the injury causes them to lose the ability to earn wages in the future.
  • Costs Associated with Repair/Replacement of Property: A victim can usually be compensated for damage to property that was directly caused by the defendant’s actions. This is usually calculated according to the fair market value of the property at the time of the injury
  • Cost of Living with a Disability: If the plaintiff’s injuries lead to disability, they can sometimes receive compensation for costs associated with the disability (such as wheelchairs or assisted living arrangements). They can also be compensated for future loss of earnings if the injury reduces their amount of wages that they can earn in the future.

Special Compensatory Damages

Special compensatory damages are monetary expenses that are incurred by the plaintiff because of the injury. Special compensatory damages are unique to the plaintiff's claim and are designed to cover any expenses or loss that are related to the injury.

  • Pain and Suffering: In addition to medical expenses, the victim may be compensated for severe pain and mental/emotional suffering resulting from the injury. However, they must usually prove that the pain is linked to the injury, and that the suffering is not contrived or imaginary
  • Funeral Expenses: Relatives of a personal injury victim can usually recover costs associated with funeral expenses
  • Loss of Consortium: In most personal injuries, it is usually the victim who is compensated. However, a spouse can sometimes receive a damages award if the injury deprives them of the emotional elements of marriage (such as loss of affection, comfort, and sexual relations).
  • Emotional Distress or Mental Anguish: Emotional distress can sometimes be covered by compensatory damages; in may jurisdictions, the defendant must have acted intentionally in order to be found liable for causing emotional distress
  • Permanent Disability or Disfigurement: Some victims can obtain additional compensation if the accident or negligence resulted in permanent disabilities or disfigurement

In some jurisdictions, personal injury laws place a “cap” or limit on the amount of damages that a victim can receive in a lawsuit.  In any case, a compensatory damages award must be reasonable and proportionate to the victim’s losses.

What Factors Are Considered When Calculating Compensatory Damages?

When calculating compensatory damages in a personal injury claim, courts will usually consider factors such as:

  • The victim’s age
  • The nature and extent of the injury or injuries
  • The victim’s earning capacity before the injury
  • Loss of income
  • The impact of the injury on the lifestyle of the victim

All of these factors are considered in detail, and the victim may need to provide additional proof in light of such factors.  For example, the victim may need to provide documents such as pay stubs, medical receipts, and witness testimonies. 

How Can I Collect Compensatory Damages?

A plaintiff becomes entitled to damages in a personal injury claim after a settlement has been reached or after a court has awarded a judgment. Being granted compensatory damages and actually collecting the damages are different.

The procedures for collecting compensatory damages in a personal injury claim can be complex in any civil litigation. The most frequent steps include:

What are Some Other Common Personal Injury Damages?

Some other common personal injury damages include:

  • Economic damages: Damages that compensate a plaintiff for actual, measurable monetary loss.
  • Non-economic damages: Damages that compensate for losses that are not easily quantifiable and non-monetary in nature.
  • Pain and suffering damages: Bodily and/or emotional harm caused by a personal injury; a type of non-economic damage.
  • Punitive damages: A monetary award to a plaintiff for the purpose of punishing a defendant’s bad behavior.

What is a Personal Injury Settlement?

A personal injury settlement is where the parties to a lawsuit reach a resolution independently, outside of the normal mechanisms of the civil court system.  In a personal injury settlement, the parties reach an agreement regarding the losses that the injured party suffered.  In most cases this results in the liable party making monetary payments such as compensatory damages to cover the costs of the injured party.

In general, the main point of a settlement is for both parties to avoid the loss of time and resources associated with a full-blown trial.  

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Compensatory Damages? 

Filing for compensatory damages can sometimes be a complex task. If you need assistance with a personal injury claim, you may wish to speak with a personal injury lawyer for advice and/or representation in court. Since personal injury and tort laws vary by state, you may need the expertise of an attorney for your lawsuit.

Photo of page author Ki Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 09-08-2017 11:59 AM PDT

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