Personal injury claims are legal actions in which a person has suffered physical, mental, or emotional injuries. They may also suffer property damages. These losses are generally the result of some sort of accident. If the injured party files a claim or lawsuit against the person who injured them, then they will generally be requesting some form of financial compensation. This compensation is also known as compensatory damages, as they compensate the recipient for the injuries they suffered because of someone else.
Compensatory damages are intended to cover all of the typical losses from an auto accident that can be proven. Some of the most common examples of compensatory damages include, but may not be limited to:
- The cost to repair or replace a damaged vehicle;
- Damages to repair or replace a damaged vehicle might also include the cost of renting a replacement vehicle while repair work is done;
- The costs of medical care, such as the costs of doctors, medicines, hospital stays, and/or therapy;
- If a person who was injured in an auto accident cannot do their job, they may also be compensated for their lost wages; and
- An injured driver or passenger can also claim compensation for their pain and suffering.
Additionally, it is possible to collect compensation for losses that will be experienced in the future. An example of this would be how in the worst cases, the injured person might not be able to work at the same kind of job that they had before the accident. They would then be able to collect for any financial loss that this causes.
Another example of this would be how an injured driver might require long-term care, such as the care that is provided in a nursing facility. The negligent driver could expect to pay for the cost of long-term care.
To reiterate, compensatory damages are generally awarded for the purpose of restoring the injured person or party to the position they were before the harm or loss occurred. As such, compensatory damages are only awarded in cases where damages, injuries, or losses have occurred.
Generally speaking, there are two main types of compensatory damage awards. Special damages are intended to restore the injured party to the position they were in before the harm or injury occurred. This most commonly includes damages that can be calculated, such as the previously mentioned 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. Examples of these can include losses associated with emotional distress, defamation, and/or loss of consortium or companionship.
It is important to note that state laws can vary considerably in terms of compensatory damages. An example of this would be how some states may place limits on compensatory damages, especially general damages.
Can I Recover Punitive Damages In An Auto Accident Lawsuit?
Punitive damages are additional money that negligent drivers may be ordered to pay if they demonstrated intentional misconduct or extreme recklessness. An example of extreme recklessness would be conduct such as speeding well above the speed limit.
Most auto accidents involve only simple negligence, such as not stopping in time to avoid hitting the car in front of you while at a red light. If the driver who caused the accident did something that is considered to be only simple negligence, the injured driver is not likely to collect punitive damages.
However, punitive damages (which are also called “exemplary damages”) might be awarded if the negligent driver engaged in conduct such as:
- Gross violations of traffic laws and road rules;
- Driving while intoxicated, such as DUI or DWI;
- Incompetence, especially if the driver is unlicensed or is driving with a suspended license; and
- Driving while knowing that their vehicle was in poor condition and could compromise the safety of others.
The defining goal of punitive damages is to punish a negligent driver for gross misconduct. They are additional to compensatory damages; meaning, if an injured driver’s car was not damaged or the driver was not injured, they would not be awarded punitive damages.
Similar to compensatory damages, some states place a limit on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded. Generally speaking, such a limit states that punitive damages must be “relatively proportionate” to the compensatory damages. What this means is that the punitive damages must be reasonable when compared to compensatory damages. An example of this would be how if a driver is awarded compensatory damages of $3,500, the driver might expect punitive damages of $350,000 but not $3,500,000. This is because an award of millions would not be proportionate to the compensatory damage award.
What Is Comparative Fault?
The laws associated with comparative fault have dictated that when assigning blame for an accident, the fault of both parties must be taken into account. What this means is that while a negligent driver might have caused the accident, the other driver might have contributed as well. It must be determined what the relative fault of each driver was. An example of this would be if one driver was 90% at fault, so that the other would be 10% at fault.
Another example of this would be if the accident happened in a parking lot, and the negligent driver pulled out of a parking space and struck the other driver in the process. The other driver had the right of way; however, the negligent driver should have stopped in order to allow the other driver to pass before pulling out. But the other driver was looking at their cell phone, and as such, they also could have stopped in order to avoid the accident, but they were not paying attention. The court may decide that the other driver who was driving through the parking lot was also at fault, in addition to the negligent driver.
In cases such as this example, there are two possibilities. The court could reduce an award of compensatory damage to the driver who is less at fault by the amount of that fault. An example of this would be how if the driver was 20% at fault, their damages award would be reduced by 20%.
In some states, finding that any fault at all is attributable to the other driver will result in no award of compensatory damages. However, most states rule that the amount of compensatory damages will not be eliminated but will be reduced, as was previously mentioned. An expert may be consulted in order to determine the relative or comparative fault of each driver, as well as the amount of compensatory damages that should be awarded.
Do I Need A Lawyer To Recover Damages In An Automobile Accident Lawsuit?
If you need help recovering damages in an automobile accident lawsuit, you should hire a car accident lawyer to represent you.
A personal injury attorney who is familiar with your state’s specific personal injury laws can inform you of your legal rights and options according to those laws, as well as whether your state subscribes to comparative or contributory fault. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.