How Are Damages / Awards Determined In Injury And Wrongful Death Cases?
Quite often, a potential client will as an injury attorney, “what is the value of my case?” The injured party of their family members wants to know what to expect regarding compensation. But the answer is not an easy or quick one, and an evaluation must be done. In order to explain the potential value of an injury or death case to a client, the attorney must first explain the types of damages, or monetary awards, involved in an injury lawsuit.
In the legal field of the United States, “damages” are an award, usually an amount of money, to be given to a person as compensation for injury or loss. The rules for damages vary based on the type of claim which is presented (such as breach of contract versus a tort claim) and where it is filed (the jurisdiction).
Damages are typically categorized into one of two types. The first type is Compensatory (or actual) damages and the second type is Punitive damages. Compensatory damages are the term used to identify money that is awarded to a plaintiff to compensate them for injury, physical damages, and other incurred loss. These damages are awarded in civil court. Compensatory damages are further categorized and broken down into special types of damages (economic losses), including property damages, medical expenses, and general damages (non-economic damages). General damages refer to pain, suffering or emotional distress.
And so, in a court of law, compensatory damages are awarded to a claimant for loss, injury, or harm suffered as a result of another person’s breach of duty or negligence. Punitive damages are assigned for the sole purpose of punishing the party or parties whose reckless, unlawful, or negligent act caused the injury or death to the victim (plaintiff) in the case.
Now, let’s further explain general damages. These are given to a claimant for the non-monetary aspects of the harm they have suffered, best known as “pain and suffering” that includes physical and/or emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, disfigurement, loss of reputation, loss or impairment of mental or physical capacity, loss of enjoyment of life, reduced quality of life, etc. This is not easily quantifiable and depends on the individual circumstances of the claimant. As one can imagine, this is a complex area of a personal injury case and open to interpretation (and argument) by all involved in the case.
The quantification of personal injury awards is not an exact science. Lawyers tend to categorize personal injury claims as “general damages” for pain and suffering and loss of amenity (PSLA). The practice of quantifying personal injury claims typically looks to previous awards made by the courts, which are “similar” to the case at hand as references. Attorneys will look for past cases that match their current case as closely as possible. Then, in addition to these referenced cases, other factors are considered in determining damage amounts. These factors will be covered in Part Two of this article, coming soon.