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3 Types of Damages in Personal Injury Cases

  • October 21, 2014

Preparing for a personal injury lawsuit can be difficult, especially when you are unsure of the outcome.  Will there be enough money to cover hospital bills and other expenses that have come up during time away from work?  What measures are in place to make sure what happened to me never happens to anyone else?  All of these are valid questions and all revolve around what types of damages are awarded at the end of the trial. 

Personal injury cases include 3 types of damages: general damages, special damages, and punitive damages. General and special damages are compensatory damages, which serve to compensate the plaintiff for economic loss and pain and suffering, attempting to make them whole. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for his or her negligence or recklessness.  Below you will find a more in-depth look at the different types of damages and how they can be calculated. 

General Damages

General damages are in place to compensate the victim for the noneconomic loss such as emotional distress, and pain and suffering. These losses are generally difficult to calculate, as there is no true economic value that can be placed on the amount of distress one suffered.   Insurance companies and lawyers often have formulas that are used to approximate the economic values.   More often than not the jury will award higher general damages to plaintiffs who have been through a severe trauma. 

For example, if a plaintiff was in a car accident and only suffered minor injuries that could be treated by a short hospital stay, the jury would be hesitant to award general damages for pain and suffering.  However, if in the same car accident the plaintiff suffered burns, which resulted in multiple surgeries and months of prolonged physical therapy, the general damages would be awarded to compensate the victim for the pain and suffering that arose from the defendant’s negligent or reckless action.  Other claims that would result in general damages include but are not limited to: loss of consortium, disfigurement, and loss of reputation.  Again, these are not easily quantifiable, but if you speak with a personal injury attorney, they can help to examine your specific situation and see what types of general damages may be available. 

Special Damages

Special damages are economic damages, those things that can be measured by direct economic loss.  The court will often award special damages for loss of earnings, medical expenses, property damage, and other measureable economic harms caused by the defendant’s actions.  Like general damages, special damages are used to compensate the plaintiff for the loss caused by the defendant.  When calculating these damages, the court will use things like medical bills as submitted to insurance, lost wages as measured by time away from work, and actual damage to property involved in the personal injury.  Using the same car accident scenario as described above, special damages would be calculated by the damage to the car, medical bills that you had to pay because of the injury, and the wages you lost because you sought treatment. 

Both general and special damages are in place to return the plaintiff to where he or she was before the injury, to make him or her economically whole.   The court presents the jury with specific instructions and outlines the types of things that may be considered for general or specific damages, and the jury decides the exact amount based on the negligence of the parties.  Sometimes the negligence or recklessness of the defendant is so heinous that the court can apply a third type of damages, punitive damages. 

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages serve to punish the defendant for the negligence or reckless behavior that caused harm to the plaintiff.  They differ from the general and specific damages, because rather than make the plaintiff whole, the punitive damages are put in place as a deterrent and warning to the defendant.  It also puts others on notice that the reckless behavior or negligence presented in the courtroom was so outrageous that the defendant must be punished.  Ohio set a limit on punitive damages in 2005 that the amount could not be more than two times the amount of compensatory damages.  So when calculating the punitive damages, the court must take into account both the general and special damages awarded. 

Following our automobile accident example from before, let’s say the jury found that driver of the company owned truck that hit the defendant was under specific orders from the owner of the company to “break the rules if you have to” in order to deliver the product on time.  Let’s also assume that while on the stand, various employees stated that the company routinely encouraged reckless behavior and often rewarded reckless driving and rule breaking when deliveries were made on time.  In order for the court to punish the wrongdoer and provide incentive to cease the reckless and negligent behavior displayed by the company as a whole, the court would order them to pay an amount that would me more than just the cost of doing business.  The court would likely award no more than two times the general and specific damages. 

If you or someone you know was injured and you feel you deserve to be compensated for your injury, contact the personal injury attorneys at Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman.  We take pride in helping our clients after suffering from personal injury.  Contact us online or call 800.678.3318 to schedule a consultation at one of our many offices.

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