Personal Injury Cases: What Forms of Damages are you Entitled to?

gavel and walletOne of the first questions personal injury clients ask us is: how much money can I recover?

In personal injury litigation, you can only receive monetary damages if the other party is found to be at fault for your accident. In other words, the defendant must have caused your injuries by being careless or reckless in their behavior.

Once you have established liability, you can make a claim for damages, which is a legal term that encompasses all of your losses and suffering.

Legal damages are meant to put you in the position that you were in before the accident or injury occurred.

Below, we will look at the different categories of damages, including specific examples of damages that personal injury victims in Washington commonly recover.

The First Category: Actual Damages

Most personal injury damages fall into the category of actual damages (also referred to as “compensatory damages” or, in some breach of contract cases, “expectation damages”).

This category includes all of the financial and physical losses you experience as an accident victim.

In other words, every bill you receive and every out-of-pocket cost you incur qualifies as a compensatory damage. Examples include:

  • Doctor and hospital bills
  • Surgical bills
  • Pharmaceutical costs (the price of medications and medical supplies)
  • Burial and funeral expenses (in the event of wrongful death)
  • The cost of repairing or replacing damaged property
  • Lost wages due to time away from your job
  • Income you might lose in the future because of an inability to work
  • The cost of ongoing or long-term medical care
  • Physical therapy or rehabilitation expenses
  • Emotional counseling, psychiatric treatment, or psychological care (in some cases)

The actual damages category also includes non-economic losses — things that don’t necessarily show up on a bill but which nevertheless represent a real hardship in your life and deserve adequate compensation. Examples include:

  • Emotional distress
  • The agony of physical pain and suffering
  • The loss of love and companionship when a loved one suffers a wrongful death
  • Loss of enjoyment in life (i.e. diminished quality of life)
  • The difficulties associated with long-term, permanent, or catastrophic injuries (e.g. disfigurement, disability, paralysis, scarring, etc.)

Compensatory damages are basically meant to help the victim recover, both financially and emotionally, so that they can right the wrong, get the help they need, and move on with their life.

It can be very hard to quantify the consequences of an accident, which is what these compensatory damages attempt to do.

Obviously, some kinds of losses (like the medical bills and other items in the first list) are easier to quantify, but for something like pain and suffering, assigning a specific dollar amount can be a real challenge. That’s the role of the judge or jury to determine — and it’s your attorney’s job to advocate for the largest reasonable valuation available to you.

The Second Category: Punitive Damages

The main purpose of awarding punitive damages is to punish the defendant for their negligent behavior, especially when that behavior is bad for the public as a whole.

Punitive damages are usually given when the defendant is found to have been blatantly or egregiously careless. They are also awarded in cases where the court worries the defendant might be unwilling to change their ways, or if the defendant is likely to cause the same kind of harm to others in the future.

Even though the punitive damages aren’t really reimbursing the plaintiff for anything, the money nevertheless goes to the plaintiff (in most cases). In fact, the punitive award can far exceed the value of the actual damages.

But it isn’t easy to convince the court that you deserve punitive damages, and certain kinds of cases aren’t eligible for punitive damages at all.  

The defendants in punitive damages cases are typically corporations — an insurance company that handled its customer’s claim in bad faith, or a hospital that performs surgery without permission. (These are only two examples; each case involving punitive damages is unique.)

If the defendant believes it might be vulnerable to punitive damages at trial, its representatives will usually be much more eager to settle the claim out of court. This can be highly beneficial to you as well.

Your personal injury attorney can help you determine whether punitive damages might be on the table for your claim, and if so, the potential amount.

How Much Is Your Case Worth?

It is impossible for anyone to tell you how much money you’ll recover in advance, or even whether you’ll win your case. No two cases are quite alike, and courts can come to any reasonable ruling.

Many factors can impact your claim. If you were partially at fault for your own injuries, for instance, the court might still allow you to recover, but your total settlement or award will be reduced accordingly.

Still, in many cases, it is possible for you get a ballpark sense of how much a case like yours might be worth. The first step is to schedule a free, no-obligation case review with an experienced Washington personal injury law firm.

The attorneys at Hames, Anderson, Whitlow & O’Leary, P.S. can take a closer look at the facts of your situation and compare them to similar cases from the past. By walking you through similar case results in the Washington state and county courts, we can help you determine which forms of damages you are entitled to (and how much they might be worth).

To get started, give us a call at (509) 586-7797 or simply fill out the contact form to the right. The sooner we can get started, the better. We want to do everything we can to maximize your compensation.

Remember: you only have to pay our fee if we get you money and not until then. Contact HAW Law today.