Damages in a Personal Injury Case Explained

January 4, 2021 | David Abels
Damages in a Personal Injury Case Explained

Learn about the types of damages that you can be compensated for in a personal injury case.

If you were injured due to another person’s negligence, you can seek compensation from whoever caused or contributed to your losses. These losses are referred to as "damages" in a personal injury claim. Damages can be divided into two basic categories: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are meant to compensate a person for a financial or personal loss. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and hopefully prevent them from doing something similar again. Compensatory damages can further be divided into economic and non-economic damages. These types of compensation are extremely important after an injury because medical treatment and other costs can be expensive. If another person or company decided to disregard your safety or health, you should not be left to deal with the consequences on your own. Most Americans cannot afford an unforeseen expense of even $1,000. This is problematic, considering the average cost of a single emergency room visit exceeds $1,300. The amount most people have in savings and the cost of medical care in the US is miles apart. Once you consider other financial costs an injury creates, like doctors’ visits, rehabilitation, and lost wages while you’re unable to work, things can get gloomy. When you are the victim of someone else’s negligence, there are legal resources available to help get you back on track. The attorneys at Abels & Annes can explain your potential options and how you can seek compensation after you were injured in an accident.

Compensatory Damages: Economic and Non-Economic

Compensatory damages are broken down into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. They are also referred to in the legal industry as special (economic) and general (non-economic) damages. These two types of damages seek to reimburse or compensate an injured person for the harm they have suffered due to an auto accident, slip and fall, medical malpractice, wrongful death, or some other type of personal injury claim.

Economic Damages (Special Damages)

Special damages, also known as economic damages are losses that can easily have a monetary value placed on them. Some common examples would be medical bills, lost income, and property damage.

Medical Treatment

Personal injuries contribute to the 530,000 annual bankruptcies caused by medical debt each year. Medical treatment following a personal injury typically costs thousands of dollars. However, our law firm often works on injury cases with medical bills well into the six-figure range. The amount of debt can quickly become overwhelming. Medical expenses that can result from a car accident injury include:
  • Hospital bills
  • Physical therapy
  • Ambulance fees
  • Medical appointments
  • In-home medical services
  • Prescriptions
  • Diagnostic testing, such as an MRI or CT scan
  • Surgical costs
Your attorney may also need to calculate future medical expenses, especially if you will need additional medical treatment at the time your claim is settled. Sometimes, injuries require ongoing medical care, like multiple surgeries, ongoing physical therapy, and treatment to manage chronic pain. In these situations, compensation for future medical expenses may be necessary.

Lost Income

More than likely, an injury will force you to take time off from work to receive treatment and recuperate at home. Your doctor may order you off work for a period of time to recover. The income you lost due to time off can be included in your personal injury claim. Similarly, an injury can significantly change your ability to earn money in the future. For example, chronic pain could make it impossible for you to go back to work as a mechanic. This may force you into a lower-paying job, or worse, permanently disable you. A personal injury attorney can demonstrate these long-term effects on your income in order to successfully pursue sufficient compensation.

Property Damage

The final main category of compensatory damages has to do with property damage incurred because of the accident. Whether your property (like your car or motorcycle) is damaged or completely destroyed, this is part of your claim against the defendant. This can include the cost of repairs or the cost to replace your vehicle. Property damage is typically resolved early on and separately from your bodily injury claim.

Non-Economic Damages (General Damages)

General damages are meant to compensate an injured person for non-monetary damages due to an injury. They are called general damages because they are the opposite of “specific” damages. They are also referred to as non-economic damages. Most personal injury victims incur some type of non-economic damages, including pain and suffering, emotional distress, or loss of consortium or companionship.

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering is probably the most well-known because it is usually the biggest component of non-economic damages. There's no universal definition for pain and suffering, which makes both the overall concept and how you calculate the amount of pain and suffering subjective. However, they typically include:
  • Physical pain caused by an injury
  • Disfigurements, such as a scar from a laceration or burn
  • A physical impairment, such as an injury that makes it difficult to move around
  • Physical discomfort caused by necessary medical treatment (like surgery)
  • Mental anguish over the trauma or loss
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Other reasonable physical or psychological effects caused by the accident or injury
You may have noticed that the last item on the list includes the word “reasonable”. This is because pain and suffering damages can be a slippery slope. Everyone realizes that a serious injury will cause some amount of pain and suffering, but if this concept is taken too far it can backfire. For this reason, it is important to have an experienced personal injury attorney on your side. Your attorney will help determine how much pain and suffering compensation you should ask for based on their experience, past settlements and verdicts from similar cases, and the severity of your injuries. An experienced personal injury attorney will have a history of negotiating damages for their clients and can help advise you as an appropriate settlement demand amount.

Emotional Distress

Serious cases can include mental and emotional anguish suffered by the plaintiff. This type of compensation is usually reserved for cases involving birth injury, wrongful death, or some other similar type of serious incident. Emotional distress compensation is not something that is usually awarded in your average car accident claim.

Loss of Consortium or Companionship

Loss of consortium (also known as loss of companionship) is the deprivation of intimacy and companionship due to a death or injury. This may include the loss of affection, partnership, and intimacy. This type of compensation is very specific to certain types of claims and is often awarded in cases involving a death. In Illinois, both spouses can seek compensation for loss of consortium.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are their own category of damages and are only awarded when the wrongful behavior of the defendant was fraudulent, intentional, or willful and wanton. They are meant to punish the at-fault party and to deter them and others from doing something similar in the future. They are not awarded often. In Illinois, your lawyer would have to bring a pretrial motion and ask the court for leave to file an amended complaint that includes a count for punitive damages under 735 ILCS 5/2-604.1.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has suffered a personal injury of any kind due to the negligence of another person or company, contact Abels & Annes. We will be happy to discuss what damages you could potentially be compensated for and your legal options. Our attorneys have decades of experience in all areas of personal injury and will use that experience to secure you the most compensation possible. For a free case evaluation, call us at (312) 924-7575 or contact us online.  

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