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At Hancock Law, a personal injury firm in DeSoto County, Florida, we aim to provide resources for our clients to educate themselves and regain power in the aftermath of a car accident. A common term that you might hear in your work with a personal injury attorney is damages. Damages refer to what you’re legally allowed to recover from someone in a specific case, whether it’s a pre-suit claim (no lawsuit has been filed) or in litigation (a lawsuit has been filed).
What type of damages are there?
There are two broad categories of damages: economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are the actual monetary damages that naturally follow an accident. This includes past and future medical expenses, past wage losses, and future loss of earning capacity. Claims for loss of future earning capacity come into play less frequently. To have these factored into your recovery requires consultation with a vocational rehabilitation expert. That is a very costly endeavor and, as such, is not feasible in every case.
Non-economic damages are generally what people refer to as pain and suffering, but there are others that fall into this category: emotional distress, loss of companionship (a.k.a loss of consortium), loss of enjoyment of life, etc. Simply put, non-economic damages are damages that cannot be proven by looking at medical bills or tax returns. They are subjective and very case specific. They are also sometimes the most valuable part of a claim, so naturally, insurance companies fight non-economic damages tooth and nail.
As someone who is injured as a result of a motor vehicle accident that is not your fault, you may be entitled to recover punitive damages. According to Merriam-Webster, “punitive” means “inflicting, involving, or aiming at punishment.” These damages are intended to punish an at-fault driver for a particularly egregious act, such as drunk driving, racing, or distracted driving (i.e., texting while driving). Punitive damages must be permitted by a court after establishing a basis to claim them, so they are not officially part of your damages unless the case is in litigation.
How do non-economic damages factor into a car accident case?
Noneconomic damages are completely subjective, as they are difficult to quantify. In a car accident case, you can only ask for non-economic damages if you have sustained a permanent injury or a permanent aggravation of a pre-existing condition. Other types of personal injury cases that Hancock Law handles, such as slip and fall cases, do not have the same limitations.
There is no objective measure of how much pain, suffering, and distress an accident causes, as you can’t monetarily measure pain. However, pain and suffering can account for a significant amount of your recovery, so long as it meets the aforementioned requirements.
How are damages assessed?
Past medical expenses are the first consideration as they are the most objective measure of damages. You will be in possession of all medical bills that you’ve received from accident-related treatment, which you should bring to your first meeting with your personal injury attorney. After your first meeting, Hancock Law obtains your records as you continue your accident-related treatment.
Because of how the court system works for personal injury cases, your personal injury attorney can show the jury the full amount of medical bills, including what health insurance has already covered. This works favorably for obtaining a fair jury verdict, but after your trial, the judge will enter a final judgment only for what you owe in past medical expenses. The insurance company knows you can only recover what you owe, so they don’t necessarily look at your total bills. The difference between what is billed and what is owed can be quite large, so this may have an equally large impact on the value of your case. The main takeaway is that clients cannot recover more for past medical expenses than they owe.
Since past medical expenses are the most objective measure of damages, they are also given the most weight when assigning case value. Beyond past medical expenses, we also consider the following:
- The types of injuries you sustained (i.e., soft tissue disc/joint injuries, traumatic brain injury, fractures; etc.)
- The type of treatment you obtained for those injuries (i.e., chiropractic, orthopedic,, neurological, surgical vs. non-surgical, etc.).
- Your prognosis (i.e., whether your injuries are permanent and, if so, what your doctors say about future, accident-related care).
- Prior injuries/accidents (i.e., whether you have any similar injuries/symptoms in your past).
- Wage losses (i.e., whether you missed a significant amount of time from work for your accident-related injuries and how much that impacted you financially).
Once we consider all of the factors discussed in this article, we then weigh them against the amount of available insurance coverage. In some cases, we may even need to consider the available assets of the at-fault driver. This is the crucial difference to keep in mind that differentiates your damages and your actual recovery.
Have questions about damages in your car accident case? Contact Hancock Law today. The best way to understand damages in your case is to meet with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after you’ve sought medical treatment after your accident.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that the information provided on this blog is general and should not be construed as legal advice nor as creating an attorney-client relationship. Every case is different and legal advice cannot be provided by Hancock Law unless/until we meet to discuss the particulars of your case. Whether an attorney-client relationship exists can differ on a case-by-case basis, but at Hancock Law we consider such a relationship to exist only upon a potential client’s request and our agreement to accept that representation.