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If you’re hurt in an accident, or sometimes intentionally, you may be able to collect damages from the responsible party. The type of damages and the specifics of how personal injury lawsuits work can depend on the state, but across the board, there are similarities no matter your location.
For example, in Florida, there are three types of economic damages. These are economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
Most states have a similar structure for damages. Below, we delve into what damages are in personal injury and what each of the three main types can refer to.
If you’re hurt in a car accident, just as one example, you might have damage. These damages could include the cost of medical expenses to treat your injuries. You might also have to pay to fix the damaged property, like your car.
If you have to miss work, your damages could include lost wages.
Someone in a personal injury case who suffered losses like an injury would be the plaintiff. As a plaintiff, you seek compensation from the person who contributed to you incurring losses.
Broadly, damages can be divided into the categories of compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages include economic and non-economic damages.
Compensatory damages are to reimburse you or compensate you if you’re injured for the harm you suffer.
Along with car accident cases, these are available in slip and fall cases and medical malpractice.
In wrongful death cases, compensatory damages can also be awarded, but these are unique damages.
Punitive damages aren’t awarded often. They’ve not associated with the harm someone suffers but are meant as a punishment, which we discuss later.
Compensatory damages are a way to become “whole” again after being harmed. This means that they are a way to help you get into the position you would have been in having the injury or accident not affected their lives.
Economic damages fall into the larger category of compensatory damages. These are damages that are measurable and verifiable in an objective way. These specific damages can compensate a plaintiff in a personal injury case for their actual losses, which are often out-of-pocket expenses following an accident.
Economic damage examples include:
- Medical expenses, past or future
- Lost earnings
- Loss of business opportunities because of injuries
- Costs of repairing or replacing damaged property
- Damage stemming from the use of the plaintiff’s property without their permission
In personal injury cases, medical expenses are the majority of economic damages most of the time. Hospital bills, ambulance charges, and the cost of therapy can all be economic damages.
If a case requires an expert witness to testify, they can help determine economic damages. An expert witness is especially helpful in cases of malpractice or wrongful death because they prove fault or liability and the economic damages.
In some places, economic damages may not be available in personal injury.
For example, if a state has contributory negligence or comparative negligence laws, it could limit or reduce the economic damages a plaintiff could receive. If you’re a plaintiff and you’re suing someone because you were hurt in a car accident, but you were speeding at the time, your economic damages would be affected in states with either of those types of negligence laws.
Florida is a comparative fault state, so you can recover damages even if you contribute to your injuries. Under the comparative fault rules, your damages are reduced, considering your share of the blame.
Non-economic damages aren’t explicitly measurable, meaning you can calculate them based on bills or financial records.
Non-economic damages are for non-monetary losses. Non-monetary losses might include:
- Emotional distress
- Disability or physical impairment
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of companionship
As you might imagine, non-economic damages are subjective and difficult to calculate. Every jurisdiction has its own guidelines for the calculation of non-economic damages.
For example, there’s a limit based on proof in some states. A specific formula is used in these states, and they typically have to adhere to a statutory cap.
There are federal limits for non-economic damages, indicating they have to be reasonable. Non-economic damages can be unusually high compared to economic damages a plaintiff receives. You can’t be awarded more for your psychological stress than your lost earnings.
Calculating Compensatory Damages
It’s complex to calculate damages in personal injury, which is one of the reasons so many people work with an attorney.
If a case goes to trial, the jury gets instructions on calculating damages. The jury must see detailed evidence of harm a plaintiff suffers from using the instructions.
Punitive damages are a way to require a defendant to compensate a plaintiff as a form of punishment. Punitive damages aren’t often available, and when they are, they’re reserved for defendants who show grossly negligent or intentional behaviors.
Punitive damages are also called exemplary because they’re a way to show others not to commit the same act. They’re setting an example of what an individual shouldn’t do, to avoid at a minimum, financial consequence.
The goal isn’t awarding a plaintiff since they are a form of punishment.
Punitive damages are never given on their own—they’re always given along with other damages, increasing the plaintiff’s award.
Both the Supreme Court and particular states have guidelines for calculating these damages. There’s no maximum amount, but typically the damages that are considered punitive don’t go beyond four times the amount of whatever the compensatory damages are.
There are rare exceptions in cases where a defendant’s actions can be seen as particularly reprehensible or if the harm a plaintiff suffers is more than the punitive damages they request.
If it’s challenging in the case to calculate non-economic damages, the punitive award could also be higher.
Finally, if you’ve been in an accident, the best thing to do as far as understanding the value of your damages is to talk to a personal injury attorney.