What Types of Compensation are Included in a Personal Injury Claim?
Money damages are awarded to an injured person on the theory that he or she is entitled to be compensated for all losses proximately resulting from the injuries caused by the negligence of others. Generally, the goal is to use financial compensation to make the injured person whole again, as if the accident never occurred. Ordinarily, the determination of the amount of damages is for the jury. There are two broad categories of compensation in personal injury claims: economic damages and non-economic damages.
Past and future economic damages are financial and consist of items such as as: personal property damage, medical expenses, lost earnings, impairment of future earning ability, and other losses such as rehabilitation and re-education expenses and actual out-of-pocket expenses such as transportation costs, or the costs of supplies. For example, someone injured in a car accident caused by the carelessness or recklessness of another may be able to seek the cost of car repairs from that other driver.
Furthermore, a plaintiff who is injured as a result of another’s wrongful conduct may recover for past loss of earnings sustained due to any inability to attend to his or her occupation. Past lost earnings includes the period from the injury to the jury verdict. The jury may also consider lost leave such as acquired sick time and vacation time which the injured plaintiff was forced to use, and other lost employment benefits such as a pension.
Recovery for loss of future earnings is based upon diminished or lost employment prospects the plaintiff would have had but for the injury. Therefore, it is proper to consider wage increases and/or promotions the plaintiff would probably have received, but for the injury. Although the most common method of proving impaired earning capacity is by establishing the difference in the actual earnings of the plaintiff before and after the injury, it is not necessary to show either the plaintiff’s pre-injury earnings or post-injury decrease in earnings.
Non-economic damages comprise past and future pain and suffering and mental anguish. These damages are awarded to compensate an injured person for the physical and emotional consequences of the injury, such as pain and suffering and the loss of enjoyment of life. Loss of enjoyment looks at the effect of the injuries on the plaintiff’s capacity to lead a normal life, and the plaintiff’s inability to enjoy life to the fullest. Loss of enjoyment of life is not a separate element of damages that entitles an injured party to a distinct award, but it is a factor to be considered when the jury awards recovery for conscious pain and suffering.
Non-economic damages will frequently constitute the most significant portion of an injured plaintiff’s damage award. These awards must represent fair compensation for the conscious pain and suffering experienced from the time of injury to the verdict, for past pain and suffering, as well as for pain and suffering that will reasonably be endured after the verdict and into the future.
It is also important to note that a requirement to the recovery of damages for conscious pain and suffering is that the pain and suffering must be proximately caused by the negligence of the defendant. The wrongdoer is responsible only for pain and suffering caused by his or her negligence, and is not liable for conscious pain and suffering attributable to some circumstances other than the wrongful act. For example, a defendant is not liable for a plaintiff’s pre-existing injury or pain and suffering, but only for the aggravation of that injury when caused by defendant.
Finally, under New York law, courts may occasionally award punitive damages to punish and deter a defendant's egregious misbehavior. In these relatively rare situations, courts will impose punitive damages to achieve public policy goals, including but not limited to: punishing the defendant for a specific bad act, deterring the defendant from committing this harm again, and protecting the public from similar acts by warning and deterring other potential bad actors.
If you or a loved one has sustained a serious injury, an experienced personal injury attorney can help. It is important to consult with a lawyer early to investigate your options, and preserve crucial evidence. For assistance with these matters, please contact us to learn more.
About the author: Peter J. Gregory is a partner with the firm. He is a trial lawyer with extensive experience resolving disputes in state and federal trial courts. His personal injury practice focuses on advising clients who have been injured or lost loved ones in accidents caused by the carelessness or recklessness of others. Please feel free to contact him directly at email@example.com or (585) 512-3506.
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