Determining Damages in Personal Injury Claims

Injuries suffered in a car accident, slip and fall, or other personal injury incident can extend beyond just the physical injuries or property damages you experience. If you file a personal injury lawsuit that goes to court, the court may award “damages” or money, which is intended to compensate you fairly for the injuries you’ve suffered.

Ultimately, the court decides what types of damages are awarded and the amount of compensation you receive as the injured party or plaintiff. Your attorney and you both play a big role in deciding what damages to seek through and in proving your claims.

Types of Damages

Damages by definition are the compensation or dollar figure assigned to injuries in a lawsuit. There are two primary categories:

Both forms of damages are monetary in nature, but they differ in their purpose. Compensatory damages are intended to compensate you for your losses. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are intended to punish the defendant(s) for their actions.

Understanding Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are the most commonly awarded damages. A dollar figure is assigned for each form of injury you suffered, based on the evidence in your case.

These damages are intended to “restore” you to the position you held before your injury. In other words, if you experienced property damage, then the court will determine the cost or value of that damage. If your lawsuit is successful, you will receive compensation equal to the cost of value of the losses you experienced.

Compensatory damages can cover a wide variety of injuries, including:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical bills
  • Property damage
  • Cost of household help
  • Loss of future earnings ability

These types of injuries are often fairly simple to prove. There are clear dollar figures associated with them. They can be documented through invoices, property damage assessments, benefit statements, and bank records, among other forms of physical evidence.

Non-financial injuries can be more difficult to prove. Damages can still be awarded for them though, if the court is convinced through evidence that compensation is due. Non-financial injuries may include, among others:

  • Pain
  • Suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Loss of reputation

Understanding Punitive Damages

Although punitive damages are less often awarded in personal injury lawsuits, they are sometimes applicable. These types of damages are generally reserved for cases in which the defendant’s actions were exceptionally negligent or wrongful.

Punitive damages are still assigned a dollar figure, but they aren’t intended to compensate you for a loss you’ve experienced. Instead, they’re designed to punish the defendant for their willful, vindictive, malicious, or otherwise cruel behavior that resulted in your injuries. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to or on top of compensatory damages.

How an Attorney can Help in Determining Damages

While the types and amount of damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit are at the discretion of the court, you and your attorney play a part in their determination. You provide your legal counsel the information necessary to make appropriate recommendations in your claim.

Your attorney, in turn, assesses your losses and advises you on what damages to seek in your lawsuit. Your attorney additionally argues your case for you, ideally providing the court the evidence and justification necessary for awarding damages.

Additional Resources