If you were hurt in an accident, you may be wondering whether you are entitled to financial compensation for your injuries. There are two methods by which
you can seek money damages for your injuries and other losses, such as lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses. One is to file a personal injury claim with an insurance company. The other is to file a personal injury lawsuit against the person or entity (such as a company or government agency) that you believe is responsible for your accident.
The financial and personal harms you suffered as a result of your accident are known as compensatory damages. There are two types of compensatory damages: special damages and general damages. These damages are designed to return you to the position you were in prior to your accident. This is sometimes referred to as making the victim of an injury “whole.”
The better you understand how accident victims are compensated for their injuries, the more likely you are to secure an insurance settlement that fully accounts for the harms you suffered as a result of your accident. If you have questions about securing compensation for your injuries, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer right away.
The term special damages refers to losses that are directly related to your accident and any injuries you suffered. These damages, which are sometimes referred to simply as “specials,” are typically easy to document and calculate. There are four categories of special damages:
- Medical expenses,
- Out-of-pocket expenses,
- Lost income, and
- Property damage.
Your medical expenses include the costs of all medical treatment you received up to this point as a result of the accident, and any you will require in the future. These costs start to accumulate immediately after your accident, and include both current-day and future expenses (if applicable). You should carefully document all medical costs by keeping records of bills from all of your treatment providers. Basically, your medical expenses include all bills in any way related to your treatment and recovery following your accident. If you will require extensive medical care in the future as a result of your injuries, it is best to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help you calculate your future medical expenses.
Your out-of-pocket expenses include any other costs related to your accident and injuries, such as the costs of prescription medications, travel to and from visits to your doctors, medical aids like crutches and slings, and payment for a rental car if you needed one. Basically, out-of-pocket expenses are any costs you incurred that you ordinarily would not have had the accident never occurred. You should keep receipts for all purchases related to your injury and treatment. If applicable, you may need to estimate future out-of-pocket expenses when writing your demand letter.
Damages for lost income includes any wages or other earnings that you lost as a result of your accident and injuries. Lost income includes all wages you lost starting on the date of the accident, any present-day lost wages, and any wages you will lose in the future. If you are unable to work, you should ask your employer for a letter that details your normal rate of pay, how many hours you were unable to work, and the total amount of compensation you lost by not being able to work. You should also ask your doctor for a letter detailing why you are unable to work and when he or she thinks you may be able to return to work in the future.
For some people, calculating wages lost as a result of an accident can be very difficult. Independent contractors, business owners, and part-time or seasonal workers often struggle to determine exactly how much income they have lost as a result of their accident. If you need help calculating lost income, contact a personal injury lawyer right away. You should also consult with a lawyer if your ability to earn money in the future will be impaired as a result of permanent physical disability.
Property damage includes any damage to your personal property due to the accident. If you were involved in a car accident, property damage would include the costs of any repairs to your vehicle. If your vehicle was totaled, the amount of property damage you suffered would be equivalent to the fair market value of your vehicle on the date of your accident. Property damage also includes the cost of replacing other personal property that was damaged or destroyed in the accident, such as your clothing, cell phone, jewelry, or other items. Gather receipts for the items that were damaged or make cost estimates for each damaged item.
How to Prove Special Damages
You can establish proof of special damages by gathering bills, receipts, or any other documentation that shows the costs you incurred as a result of your accident. To calculate the total amount of your special damages, simply add up all of the costs of the damages you incurred in each of the categories discussed above. You should include this total amount in your demand letter to the insurance company.
The other type of compensatory damages is general damages. These damages are not as easy to calculate as special damages. You can’t assess the value of your general damages simply by adding up bills and receipts. Because the value of damages is subjective and open to interpretation, you may help from an experienced personal injury lawyer to understand how much money you may be entitled to.
The most common types of general damages for personal injuries are:
- Pain and suffering,
- Emotional distress,
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Pain and Suffering
Compensation for pain and suffering accounts for any actual physical pain and severe discomfort you endured after the accident. The amount of financial compensation you may be entitled to for pain and suffering depends on the type of your injury or injuries, and the duration of your recovery period. The more physical pain you experienced after the accident and the longer your recovery will take, the higher the compensation.
Compensation for emotional distress accounts for any psychological distress, mental anguish, and emotional disturbance caused by the accident and your injuries. Bad accidents often cause anxiety,
depression, insomnia, fear, shock, flashbacks, and nightmares. If you are experiencing these symptoms after an accident, discuss this with your doctor. You may need to visit a psychologist or a psychiatrist. A mental health professional can help you cope with these symptoms. A letter and/or medical record from your doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor can help substantiate the seriousness of your emotional distress.
Loss of Enjoyment
Compensation for loss of enjoyment accounts for any reduction in your quality of life due to the accident. This includes an inability to engage in hobbies, daily exercise, time with friends, and other recreational pursuits. You may need to write an account of your lifestyle prior to the accident, then detail how it is changed as a result of your accident and injuries. You should use strong, emotional language and give a realistic account of how your life has been negatively impacted to convey your loss to the claims adjuster.
Loss of Consortium
Compensation for loss of consortium accounts for any loss of physical intimacy or sexual companionship with a spouse, significant other, or long-term partner caused by your injuries. Loss of consortium may include present and future sexual disability, as well as the emotional pain of divorce if your injuries caused the relationship to dissolve. Recovering compensation for loss of consortium usually requires medical proof of sexual disability. Negotiating this issue with a claims adjuster can be uncomfortable, as insurance companies may require you to provide a written statement from your spouse or partner detailing intimate details about your relationship.
Proving General Damages
Establishing that you are entitled to general damages is much more difficult than proving special damages. You cannot simply add up receipts and bills to calculate these categories of damages, as they are subjective. The most common method of calculating general damages is known as the “multiple method,” which is when you multiply your total amount of special damages by a factor between one (1) and five (5). The factor you use depends on the severity of your injuries. To learn more about this method, click here.
You can also research jury verdicts for personal injury cases similar to yours in your city and county. You can do this by visiting the following websites:
In addition, you can visit your the office of the county clerk in your county. Some of the files for personal injury lawsuits, including jury awards, are public records and can be viewed for free. You should try to look for cases with similar fact patterns to yours. The jury award will break down each category of damages, giving you a better idea of the amount of general damages you should seek.
The more research you do, the higher your chances at securing general damages. If you have questions about general damages, or the insurance company has denied your request for general damages, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer right away. An attorney can help you understand how much your injuries other losses are worth.
This page contains basic information about damages in personal injury claims. It is not a substitute for consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer, and some information may not apply to you. Only a licensed attorney in your area can give you legal advice about your situation. Because filing a personal injury lawsuit requires special knowledge and training, you should never do so without the guidance of a lawyer.
Disclaimer: Information provided on this site is NOT formal legal advice. It is generic legal information. Under no circumstances should the information on this site be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal action. Always get a formal case evaluation from a licensed attorney if you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit.