How Damages Are Assessed in a Personal Injury Case

By Peter DePaolis

If you got hurt because of someone else’s carelessness, one of your first questions after the dust settles is how much compensation you can collect for your injuries and losses. We have all seen the headlines in the news about people getting millions of dollars from large corporations, but very few people outside of the legal field know what goes into these verdicts and settlements and how damages are assessed in a personal injury case. 

Determining how much money you should get in a fair settlement or trial is a complicated matter. A DC personal injury attorney can protect you from getting tricked into accepting a lowball offer from the negligent party’s liability insurance carrier.

Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages

Money damages in personal injury cases usually fall into two primary categories, economic damages and non-economic damages. 

  • Economic damages are things you can easily measure in dollars because these losses usually have a paper trail like a bill or a receipt. Generally, these are “out of pocket” financial losses, even though you might not actually have to pay each item out of your own resources. Examples of economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, future medical expenses, future lost wages, property damage, and other financial losses caused by the accident or your injuries.
  • Non-economic damages are harder to measure in terms of dollars, but an experienced personal injury attorney knows how to calculate these things. These items are in addition to compensation you might receive for your economic losses. Pain and suffering, disfigurement, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and loss of enjoyment of life are a few examples of non-economic damages that might be available to the plaintiff in a personal injury case.

If your close relative died because of an accident that was someone else’s fault, the legal beneficiaries might be eligible for additional compensation for their losses. 

Can You Get Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case?

Yes, it is possible to receive an award of punitive damages in a personal injury case, however, these awards are rare. You have to convince the judge or jury that the defendant acted with evil intent, actual malice, deliberate violence, or in willful disregard for the rights of others to justify getting punitive damages in a personal injury case.

Factors That Apply to Assessing Damages in a Personal Injury Case

Multiple factors go into the process of determining the appropriate and fair amount of damages in a personal injury case. Every personal injury case is different, and the amount of damages will depend on the unique facts of the individual case. Personal injury cases do not have an automatic, guaranteed, or flat-rate amounts of compensation. This is why it is important to consult with an attorney experienced in evaluating damages in personal injury cases.

For economic damages like medical bills, your attorney will add up the expenses related to the treatment of your wounds, for example, the ambulance, emergency room, doctors, hospital, surgery, lab tests, imaging services like x-rays and MRIs, diagnostic procedures, physical therapy, and prescription drugs. If your doctor expects you to need future medical intervention because of the accident, the trier of fact will want a reasonable estimate of that anticipated medical care.

If you missed paychecks because of your injury, medical treatments, and recuperation time, records from your employer can be good evidence of these damages. If you cannot make as much money as before because of your injuries and ongoing impairment, a vocational expert might be needed.

The non-economic losses will be a measure of how the accident, injuries, and ongoing problems have affected your life. These items are more subjective, but they deserve compensation. You do not have to try to calculate all of these types of losses on your own. When you work with a DC personal injury attorney, your lawyer will handle this and other aspects of your case. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.