What Are Special Damages In Personal Injury Cases?
Personal injury cases are emotional by nature. Simply filing a personal injury lawsuit implies that an injury or wrongful death has occurred. These cases are complicated, but victims should generally be able to receive compensation for various expenses related to their injuries.
In personal injury claims and subsequent personal injury cases, damages encompass all of the economic damages and non-economic damages that a victim turned plaintiff may be awarded due to the negligent or intentional conduct of the defendant. These are often precipitated by an event like a car accident.
General and special damages compensate the victim for all their injuries and other effects like pain and suffering, lost wages, property damage, bodily pain, medical bills, costs, expenses, loss of companionship, emotional distress and other types of damage.
Most people do not fully understand the different types of damages. For this reason, our expert team would like to explain what you can expect with special damages should your case warrant such.
The 3 Types of Damages
To fully understand special damages, it is important to know the three types of damages and what they cover. The two main damage categories in a California personal injury claim are compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages serve to reimburse a victim for his or her losses. Several specific types of damages exist under the broad category of compensatory damages. The two subcategories of compensatory damages are general and special.
The three types of damages include the following:
- General Damages
General damages are those most accident victims would suffer in a personal injury accident, such as physical pain, emotional suffering, mental anguish, lost enjoyment of life and distress from permanent disabilities or disfigurement.
- Special Damages
Special damages in a personal injury settlement are out-of-pocket losses that are unique to the individual victim. They may include past and future health care expenses, lost income, lost future earning capacity, legal fees, travel costs and the price of property repairs. Special damages are the quantifiable financial losses the victim experienced because of the defendant’s actions or conduct. To obtain special damages, the victim or his or her attorney must prove specific losses through receipts and documentation. Proof can come in the form of medical bills, pay stubs and estimates from vehicle mechanics.
- Punitive Damages
Punitive damages, often called exemplary damages, in personal injury settlements are extra compensation awards granted to a victim in cases involving a defendant’s malicious or intentional acts. A judge may award exemplary damages in a personal injury case if the defendant’s actions warrant an additional restitution award as a form of punishment. A judge may also issue punitive damages if he or she believes compensatory damages do not adequately compensate a victim for severe, traumatic or permanent losses.
What Is Covered By Special Damages?
Special damages go by a few different terms when discussing personal injury cases. You may also hear these referred to as “compensatory damages” or “calculable damages” or “economic compensation.” Regardless of what these damages are referred to as, these are the types of losses that injury victims absolutely need to recover compensation for. The goal of awarding special damages to an injury victim is to help that person get into a position financially that they would be in had they not suffered the injury in the first place.
Some of the main types of special damages that clients in personal injury cases recover include the following:
Medical expenses are often the highest costs that can burden you after an accident. Not many people have hundreds of thousands of dollars lying around. Severe injuries usually have a long-term impact on your quality of life and come with substantial medical costs.
You need to keep track of all your medical bills following your accident. This will allow you to calculate the full extent of your medical treatment costs. Your attorney may assist you in ensuring your medical expenses are included in your final calculation for compensation.
Costs Directly Associated With the Accident
You may have significant economic costs associated with your accident injuries that go beyond typical medical care costs.
You may also require home and vehicle modifications to accommodate their injuries.
- Wheelchair Ramps
If you are forced to use a wheelchair after your accident, you will need to make your home accessible. A permanent wheelchair ramp for your home can cost upwards of $8,000. And if you need custom materials or features to retrofit the wheelchair ramp with your home’s existing design, it will drive the cost up even more.
- Widened Doorways
Likewise, widened doorways will be necessary if you have to use a wheelchair. Even if you do not have to use a wheelchair all the time, you still deserve the convenience and flexibility of moving through your home with ease. Widened doorways will increase the accessibility of your home, but they will also add to your financial burden in the aftermath of your accident.
- Accessibility Modifications for the Bedroom and Bathroom
Depending on your injuries, you may need to modify your bathroom to increase mobility. This might include the addition of a hospital bed to make them comfortable at home. Your shower or bathtub may need to be modified to increase your ability to care for yourself. Some accident victims also use modified toilets to make them easier to use.
After an accident, you might need to miss work to visit the hospital and evaluate their injuries. You may also need to miss work so you can take care of any other tasks associated with the accident. If you sustain serious injuries, you may need to miss a substantial amount of time from work if you can ever return at all. While you are missing work to take care of your damages, you will incur lost wages.
If you are hospitalized after your accident, you won’t be able to complete everyday work tasks. Even more importantly, while you are hospitalized, you will need all of your focus on recovery instead of worrying about missing work. Many victims have to miss extended time at work due to pain, confusion, or other limitations caused by their injury.
How Are Special Damages Calculated?
When examining the list of special damages that are typically awarded in a personal injury case, we can see a recurring theme – all of these damages are generally considered calculable because we can gather up bills and receipts to prove they occurred.
When a personal injury victim or their lawyer is working to calculate these total losses, they will need to gather up every bill they have received due to medical care caused by the incident. Additionally pay stubs, tax returns, W2s, 1099s, or any other financial document should be made available to show lost earnings. Finally, injury victims should gather up any appraisals of damaged property or receipts showing out-of-pocket costs caused by the injuries.
All of these will be used to calculate special damages. If the insurance carrier or at-fault party refuses to offer a fair settlement for these damages, it may be necessary for the injury victim to file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court.
How Can Personal Injury Attorneys Protect My Special Damages?
An attorney may take several steps right now to protect the special economic compensation award that a victim gets in a lawsuit in the future. Attorneys often have the power to accomplish these important objectives where friends and family do not so it is important for them to truly understand their mission and capabilities.
After someone’s negligent or reckless behavior left you injured, you need a personal injury attorney who will fight for what you need now and what you will need in the future. Even though special damages are tied to monetary losses, that doesn’t mean that their calculation is less subjective than general damages.
Every attorney should consider these things when securing a damages compensation award after an accident or injury from an insurance company, defendant, or other third party:
- Prohibiting the defendants from speaking directly with the plaintiffs.
- Securing the client’s medical history immediately after the incident.
- Obtaining past employment and income records of the victim.
- Conversing with close friends and family to get a true sense of the impact of the event on the victim’s life.
Can You File a Claim?
As the victim of a personal injury accident in California, you could be eligible for compensation to cover special, general and/or punitive damages. Proving your economic and non-economic damages may take assistance from a personal injury lawyer in Southern California. In most cases, your lawyer will need to establish four main elements to obtain a compensation award on your behalf.
- Duty of Care
For a society to work properly and safely, each person has a duty of care to others in all circumstances. Duty of care is the legal responsibility you have as an individual not to injure or harm another person. This element of negligence states that the possibility of harm must be “reasonably foreseen.” The duty of care is a standard of care in a particular situation, one that is established by factors including the relationship of the parties and the rules in place concerning the activity. Driving is governed by traffic laws, for example, and a store owner has a duty to keep customers safe from things such as spills, loose fixtures and other foreseeable dangers.
If a person injures themselves on property that is not well-maintained, the store or property owner may have breached their duty of care. A person’s duty of care in personal injury cases can also involve such things as that of an animal owner. Simply by owning an animal, you accept the duty of care responsibility to keep other people protected from bites and attacks.
There are situations where a legal duty is created in the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant. A duty of care arises when the law recognizes a relationship between two parties, and due to this relationship, one party has an obligation to exercise the same level of reasonable care that another person in a similar situation would exercise.
- Breach of Duty
For a successful personal injury claim, the opposing party must have breached their duty of care. What this means is that they failed to uphold their legal responsibility to keep others safe, either through reckless action or lack of action.
Breaching the duty of care involves the party failing to act reasonably, or in a way that another person could be expected to act in a similar situation. This breach of duty requirement is part of what protects people from being sued in simple accidents. Should the store owner have known to make those same necessary repairs? Would another driver know that driving at that speed was dangerous? These are all important facts to consider.
The court will need to determine if the defendant breached this duty by doing or not doing something that an average person would do if they were in a similar circumstance.
A jury might likely find a defendant negligent if an average person:
- Knew everything the defendant knew at the time; and
- Would have known his/her actions might cause an injury to someone else; and
- Would have done something different from what the defendant did in that situation.
- Causation (Cause in Fact)
Causation is third on the list of the four elements of negligence, and it is extremely important. In a personal injury case, causation means that the opposing party’s breach of duty to uphold a standard level of care is the direct result of your injury and that without the negligent behavior, you would not have been injured.
If the action caused the plaintiff injury through an unexpected act of nature, then it would be deemed unforeseeable, most likely making the defendant to be found not liable.
For example, if an elderly person trips while walking on uneven pavement, leading to a break that requires surgery, physical therapy and/or time off of work, the cause of your injury is the break resulting from the uneven pavement. The property owner had the duty of care to keep safe for pedestrians. By failing to keep the pavement safe, they breached their duty, and it resulted in the injury. If they had fixed the uneven pavement, you likely would not have broken a bone and ended up in the hospital with an injury. This is what the law refers to as causation.
Damages are the final element of negligence. Because the plaintiff suffered injury or loss which a reasonable person in that same situation could expect or foresee, monetary compensation may be the only form of relief for those injuries. Damages include medical care, lost wages, emotional pain and more. Establishing that you incur damages as the result of your injury is essential, as this is what you are filing a personal injury case to reclaim.
Having an experienced personal injury attorney on your side is essential, as you may not realize all of the damages you are entitled to claim as a result of your injury. Your personal injury claim may be worth much more than you realize and a good personal injury lawyer can help you get the largest settlement possible. If you are considering filing a claim, speak with an attorney before you do so to ensure you are asking for all that you deserve.
Should You Speak with an Attorney?
Our legal team at Duque Law Group is comprised of award-winning and nationally recognized trial lawyers who collaborate with nurses, doctors and medical experts regularly. Though we understand the nature of injuries, we are not physicians, and always encourage victims to seek treatment as soon after an accident as possible, and to follow up and heed their doctors’ advice.
Call us now at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your options. A free consultation is just a phone call away.