If you or someone you love recently suffered an injury in a personal injury accident or incident, you might wonder about your legal rights and options. With the help of an experienced personal injury attorney, you have many. You might also be wondering what your case is worth or what you can sue for. The best way to get specific and reliable answers to your questions is to meet with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after suffering an injury. They will have answers to your specific questions.
What Does a Personal Injury Claim Cover?
You can receive financial reimbursement for your injury-related losses through a personal injury claim. Under personal injury laws, if one person or party acted carelessly, negligently, or intentionally caused the victim’s injuries, the victim can hold them accountable.
What does it mean to make an injured party whole again? To be made whole, they must be in the same position before they suffered their personal injury.
Personal injuries can lead to several financial and personal losses. Compensating a claimant for both types of losses makes them whole again.
What Falls Under Personal Injury?
In a personal injury claim, the victim (or their family) can receive compensation for their damages. Personal injury claims of all types have two essential factors; liability and damages. Liability means legal responsibility. Suppose the actions or inactions of a person or party cause a personal injury. In that case, the person or party is legally responsible for the resulting damages.
Compensatory damages are the basis for monetary compensation when a personal injury occurs. Paying for damages fixes the harm (as much as possible) that the liable party caused. Even though receiving compensation for personal injury damages won’t erase the losses or suffering, the closest possible remedy is receiving the money to cover injury-related expenses and other losses.
The money a personal injury victim should receive depends on the types and amounts of damages they suffer due to their injuries. For example, if someone receives only minor bruising or scrapes and doesn’t need medical attention, they won’t have a valid claim. In such a minor case, there aren’t any damages the person who fell can claim. But, on the other hand, if a 16-year-old is in a car accident that isn’t their fault and becomes permanently paralyzed, they have an extremely valid case.
You should also note that if someone is at an increased risk of injury due to a prior medical condition, it doesn’t change their claim’s value. The party who causes the personal injury is still liable for the damages they cause. For instance, if a woman in her 60s with osteoporosis falls on a slippery walkway outside the mall, she has an increased risk of breaking a bone. However, this doesn’t decrease the property owner’s liability for her injuries or damages if she breaks a bone or otherwise suffers an injury.
If the person or party who caused your injuries acted intentionally or with dangerous indifference for your safety or well-being, you can ask the court for punitive damages. In such a case, punitive damages fall under personal injury.
Sometimes called exemplary damages, punitive damages are generally applicable only in high-dollar cases with representation from a skilled personal injury attorney. For example, punitive damages will sometimes apply if someone fell and sustained a traumatic brain injury or became paralyzed.
However, personal injury settlements don’t involve punitive damages. By law, courts must only assign punitive damages in cases involving the malicious, willful oppressive, reckless, or fraudulent behavior of the at-fault party. Although much less common, courts use punitive measures to deter the at-fault party and others from behaving in similar ways in the future.
Some states, such as Alaska, California, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, and Utah, have a split-recovery statute. In these states, a portion of punitive damage awards goes to a state fund and the remainder to the injured party instead of 100 percent to the injured party.
The Two Types of Compensatory Damages
Compensatory damages reimburse injured parties for their losses, suffering, or inconveniences. There are two categories of compensatory damages; special and general.
Special damages, also known as economic damages, have a pre-determined value. There’s no debating what special damages are worth. Special damages include:
#1. Medical Costs and Expenses
You deserve compensation for all of the medical care and treatment you have received since suffering your personal injury through the current day. Some victims with severe or catastrophic injuries may need continued medical care, even after the claim settles. Your attorney should also include future medical expenses in your claim.
You are entitled to receive compensation for the following types of medical costs and more:
- Ambulance services
- Emergency room care
- Doctor and specialists visits and consultations
- Lab work and other diagnostic tests such as x-rays or MRIs
- Hospital stays
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Chiropractic care
#2. Lost Income and Wages
Some personal injuries keep people from returning to work immediately or from going to work in the future. If this applies to you, you are entitled to seek damages for lost wages and other lost earnings. Calculate your lost wages from the date of your personal injury to the current date. If you are still off work or limited in your ability to earn wages as you did before, calculate them for as long as you may be unable to work.
Include any bonuses, tips, or commissions you missed out on by not working.
#3. Out-of-Pocket Expenses
You can also receive compensation for all other injury-related expenses when calculating the value of your compensatory damages.
Out-of-pocket injury-related include:
- Prescription medications
- Over-the-counter medications
- Gas, parking, and other travel expenses for traveling to medical appointments
- Medical equipment and supplies such as wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, slings, or respirators
- Replacement household services, including house cleaning, grocery shopping, meal preparation, childcare, pet care, and yard work while you were physically unable to complete these tasks
- Any other expenses you incurred because of your injury
If you expect any future out-of-pocket expenses, don’t forget to estimate and include those too.
#4. Property Damage
Special damages also encompass the repair or replacement of your damaged property. For example, suppose you lost your wedding ring in a motor vehicle accident. In that case, your damages should include the cost of replacing your ring.
Other examples of property that might become damaged in a personal injury accident include:
- Cell phones
- Other electronic devices
- Watches and jewelry
- Sunglasses or eyeglasses
General or non-economic damages are the natural results of the at-fault party’s negligent actions. Even though they don’t come with a bill or a receipt, there’s no denying a connection between what the at-fault party did or didn’t do and the injured person’s general damages.
Depending on the specifics of a personal injury claim, general damages might include:
- Pain and suffering or the real pain and discomfort you experienced at the time of the accident and suffering resulting from the injury and its treatments
- Disfigurement or scarring to cover the humiliation or embarrassment you might endure because of severe scarring or an amputation
- Physical impairment or disability, for example, being unable to take care of yourself after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or being unable to walk independently due to a spinal cord injury (SCI)
- Mental anguish, including feelings of distress, anxiety, depression, fear, grief, or trauma
- Loss of consortium, also known as loss of affection or loss of companionship, refers to the loss of marital, parental, or other benefits of crucial relationships
- Loss of enjoyment of life applies when your injury keeps you from enjoying everyday activities, recreational pursuits, exercise, traveling, hobbies, and family traditions, among many other things
Determining the value of general damages can be challenging since they don’t come with an assigned rate. Typically, general damages will be three to four times the value of a victim’s special damages.
Proving Compensatory Damages
Personal injury victims can’t just claim to suffer damages and expect to receive compensation. Personal injury civil law requires that they prove how the at-fault party’s actions caused their injuries and damages.
More specifically, they must prove:
- That they suffered damages
- That their damages were the result of the other party’s negligence (causation)
- The value of their damages
In personal injury cases, you must establish your case by a preponderance of the evidence. This standard means that you must show that your version is more likely to be true than not to be true or that more than 50 percent of the credible evidence is in your favor. This burden of proof differs from criminal law, where prosecutors must prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt.
Establishing Special Damages
Special damages are usually simple to prove. Save your medical bills and receipts for out-of-pocket expenses such as prescriptions, durable medical equipment, or chiropractic care. Employer and tax records can be helpful to prove your lost wages.
You can establish how much the at-fault party owes for your lost income with a letter from your employer.
The letter should include specific details, such as:
- Your normal pay rate
- The total hours of work you missed
- Your total amount of lost wages caused by your injury
If applicable, your employer should also include lost opportunities for overtime and any paid vacation or sick leave, sometimes called PTO (paid time off), that you used as a direct result of your injury.
You can still claim damages for lost income even if you are self-employed. For example, you can use your tax returns, profit and loss (P&L) statements, and other evidence of lost income after sustaining your injury to prove your financial losses.
For lost or damaged property resulting from the personal injury incident, retain the receipts for the out-of-pocket expenses for necessary repairs or purchase replacement goods.
The Challenge of Proving General Damages
General damages are certainly harder to prove as there might not be concrete evidence of their existence. Insurance companies are naturally suspicious of general damages since they don’t have any method to measure someone’s distress or suffering.
However, general damages are just as crucial to a personal injury claim as special damages. The effects of general damages can be permanent and even more difficult for victims to deal with than special damages.
Testimony from the following people might serve as evidence supporting proof of your losses:
- Your treating doctors
- Your mental healthcare providers
- Family or friends who knew you before you suffered your injury
Depending on the types of non-economic damages you need to establish in your claim, you can also use your medical records as evidence.
Using other personal injury cases similar to yours as examples is sometimes helpful in receiving reasonable compensation for non-economic damages. For example, your attorney can show what victims of similar accidents and injuries have recently received for their general damages as a starting point for negotiating a settlement with an insurance adjuster.
Maximizing Your Personal Injury Compensation
With an attorney, you have an advocate who can ensure that all of your special and general damages get included in your injury claim. If punitive damages are appropriate, your attorney can also request them on your behalf. They understand what it takes to prove your damages and other ways to maximize compensation.
The best news is that it costs nothing to meet with a reputable injury lawyer to discuss your injury claim and legal options. Most don’t ask for any payments upfront if you decide to hire them. Instead, they work on contingency fees.
When you hire an injury attorney on a contingency fee basis, you agree to pay them a predetermined percentage of your settlement or court award once you receive it. Under this arrangement, you can get the legal help you need without stressing over how you’ll pay for it.
Start ensuring full and fair compensation for your injuries and damages by speaking with an experienced personal injury attorney today.