What Kind of Damages Can You Sue For?

What Kind of Damages Can You Sue For?

In a personal injury lawsuit, damages are monetary compensation awarded to someone who has suffered loss or injury through someone else's wrongful act, such as negligence or intentional misconduct. Personal injury cases cite three types of damages.

What Kind of Damages Can You Sue For

The first is compensatory damages, which reimburse the victim for their losses. The second is punitive damages, which punish the defendant and deter others from similar actions. The third is statutory damages, which the law predetermines for specific situations.

Here is a deeper dive into each type of damages you can typically sue for in a personal injury case and why maximizing those damages requires hiring an experienced Myrtle Beach personal injury attorney to handle your claim.

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Introduction to Damages

Damages refers to the remedy (usually a sum of money) the law requires for a breach of some duty or violation of some right resulting in harm to a victim. If a plaintiff (the injured party) in a lawsuit proves that the defendant (the at-fault party) is liable for causing them harm, the next step is calculating the amount the defendant must pay the plaintiff. These are the damages due.

You may confuse the term damages with damage. In legal circles, damage (singular) usually refers to loss or harm resulting from an injury. Damages (plural) typically refer to the remedy or compensation due for that harm.

In a personal injury case, damages primarily compensate the injured person for harm due to the defendant's wrongdoing. The goal is to, as much as possible, make the injured person whole again or return them to the condition they were in before the injury occurred.

Damages can also serve other purposes, such as punishment, deterrence, or to achieve a policy goal. We will discuss each of these purposes in greater detail.

Common Types of Damages in Personal Injury Cases

In personal injury lawsuits, a plaintiff who proves the defendant's liability may receive three general types of damages. They are compensatory, punitive, and statutory damages.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are the most common damages in personal injury cases. They compensate the injured party for their physical, emotional, and financial losses.

Compensatory damages cover a wide range of losses from personal injury and encompass two sub-categories: economic (or special) and non-economic (or general) damages.

Economic damages pay for the tangible financial losses the victim has suffered due to an injury someone else caused.

They include:

  • Medical expenses in treating an injury.
  • Lost income from missing work due to an injury.
  • Loss of future earnings due to an injury-related disability.
  • The cost of repairing or replacing damaged property.
  • Any other costs or financial losses directly resulting from an accident or injury.

Non-economic damages, in contrast, compensate a victim for the less tangible forms of harm suffered.

They often include payment to the victim for:

  • Physical pain and discomfort from an injury or medical treatments.
  • Emotional suffering and injury-related mental health challenges.
  • Loss of enjoyment or quality of life.
  • Daily inconvenience or loss of independence.
  • Diminished personal or intimate relationships.
  • Scarring, disfigurement, or loss of bodily function.

The most dependable way to determine the amount of economic and non-economic damages you might sue for is to talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages serve a different purpose than compensatory damages. Rather than compensating the victim for their losses, punitive damages aim to punish the defendant's actions and to deter others from engaging in similarly harmful conduct.

Punitive damages are less common than compensatory damages. They apply when evidence shows a defendant's behavior was extreme or malicious. A court, for instance, might award them against a manufacturer that not only knowingly sold defective products but intentionally misrepresented their safety and covered up evidence of its wrongdoing.

Consult a seasoned lawyer to determine if the liable party may be subject to punitive damages in your personal injury case.

Statutory Damages

A third type of damages occasionally seen in personal injury cases is statutory damages. A statute establishes damages to achieve policy goals without reflecting actual harm or losses.

Statutory damages work in various ways.

A statute may establish fixed or minimum damages if the injured party proves a defendant committed a specific wrongful act. It may give the injured party the right to seek a multiple of their compensatory damages in specified circumstances, or it may determine that the defendant must pay fees to the plaintiff's attorney.

The Federal Stored Communications Act of 1986, for example, provides for a minimum of $1,000 in damages in cases of electronic privacy violations. State statutes often award multiple damages in cases involving vulnerable victims or wrongful insurance practices.

The Federal Civil Rights Statute gives courts the discretion to order payment of the plaintiff's attorney fees in cases where a government officer caused harm while acting under color of law, and the unlawful acts consist of an abuse or misuse of power that the official possesses only because they are acting in an official capacity.

Statutory damages are highly case-specific. Talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer today to learn if your circumstances merit a claim for statutory damages.

Factors Influencing the Amount of Compensatory Damages You Might Receive

Compensatory damages are often the primary focus of a personal injury lawsuit. Let's inspect the key factors influencing the damages you could receive.

Severity of Your Injury

The severity and lasting effects of your injury is a significant factor in determining the amount of your compensatory damages. More severe and permanent injuries typically warrant more considerable compensation due to increased medical expenses, extended periods of missed work, and a higher degree of suffering and lifestyle disruption.

Volume and Strength of the Evidence Proving Liability and Damages

The amount of evidence you have to support your claim, as well as the strength of that evidence, can significantly influence your compensatory damages. Solid evidence can prove the defendant's liability and increase the possibility of compensation.

A lack of evidence, however, can make it harder to prove your case to an insurance company, judge, or jury, reducing your compensation.

Skill, Experience, and Reputation of Your Lawyer

The capabilities of the lawyer you choose to handle your injury can significantly change your likely compensation.

An experienced lawyer with a track record of success in their field has the knowledge and skills to advocate for your rights and secure the maximum possible compensation. The reputation of your lawyer can influence how a judge, jury, or even an opposing counsel may view and handle your case.

At-fault parties and insurance companies may opt to settle a claim on terms favorable to the injured party when their alternative is to take the risk of going up against a top-notch trial lawyer in court and suffering a potentially large loss.

Financial Resources of the Liable Parties

The financial resources of the defendant or their liability insurer can also influence the amount of compensatory damages you may receive. You can't get blood from a stone. No matter how much a court may award you damages, your claim is ultimately only worth what the defendant or their insurer has the financial capacity to pay, usually through liability insurance coverage or liquid assets.

That is why experienced personal injury lawyers work hard to identify as many liable parties as possible for their clients to sue. The more sources of payment of your damages you have to pursue, the greater the likelihood of full compensation.

Protect the Value of Your Claim by Following These Steps

Maximizing the amount you receive in damages in a personal injury case isn't just about knowing the types of damages and factors that change their value. It's also about understanding the steps you can take to protect and enhance the value of your claim. Here are a few essential steps that can contribute significantly to the success of your personal injury lawsuit.

Take Care of Your Health

Your well-being should always be your top priority. After an accident, follow your doctor's treatment plan diligently.

A consistent medical record aids your recovery and shows strong evidence of your injuries, their effect on your life, and the ongoing expenses they entail. The other party can use any lapse in following your prescribed treatments against you, which may decrease the compensation you hope to receive.

Do Not Accept Settlement Offers Without First Talking to a Lawyer

Liability insurance companies sometimes offer quick settlements directly to you, the injured party. It may feel tempting to accept what seems like easy money, especially when financial burdens are mounting, but it's almost always a mistake.

The initial offers insurers make to injured victims are rarely close to what you deserve to receive. If you accept them, you could sacrifice your right to demand full compensation that covers your current costs and future needs.

Let an experienced personal injury lawyer handle discussions with the insurer on your behalf. A lawyer can assess if an offer is fair or negotiate for a better resolution. An attorney can often secure far more for you than the amount the insurance company initially offered.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney as Soon as Possible

Time is of the essence in personal injury cases. Gather evidence before it becomes unavailable or forgotten.

A lawyer can begin gathering information to support your claim immediately. Legal deadlines may restrict the timeframe within which you can file a lawsuit, so it's essential to have a lawyer who knows what steps to take to preserve your rights.  

Talking to a lawyer about your case will not cost you anything.

All reputable personal injury lawyers offer a free case evaluation. It also won't cost you anything upfront to hire a lawyer. Personal injury attorneys also work on contingency, which means they only receive a fee if they get positive results.

Frequently Asked Questions About Damages in a Personal Injury Case

As a potential plaintiff in a personal injury case, you may have many questions about the damages you could receive as compensation for your losses. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about these damages.

Can I Sue for Emotional Distress?

You can usually sue for emotional distress. It is routinely a component of compensatory damages in personal injury cases involving a physical injury. You can also sue for it in some states without a physical injury.

Proving emotional distress can be challenging and often requires extensive evidence such as medical records, psychological evaluations, and testimony from mental health professionals. Always ask an experienced personal injury lawyer to handle your claim.

Do I Have To Pay Taxes on the Damages I Receive?

Probably not. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rarely taxes compensatory damages awarded for physical injury or illness. This includes compensation for medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering related to the physical injury. Some exceptions may apply.

The IRS can consider punitive damages, for example, as taxable income, even when part of a personal injury claim. Speak with a tax professional or an experienced attorney to understand how a personal injury award might affect your tax liability.

How Long Will It Take to Get Damages in My Personal Injury Case?

The timeline for resolving a personal injury case varies significantly based on the specific details of your situation. Factors that can affect the timeline include the case's complexity, the parties' willingness to settle, and any backlogs in the court system.

Jeff Morris, Lawyer for Personal Injury
Jeff Morris, Personal Injury Attorney

Some cases can wrap up in months, while others can take years to resolve fully. The most efficient way in all cases is to hire an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you or someone you love sustained injuries in an accident or incident that was partially someone else's fault, you may have the right to sue for damages. 
You'll need an experienced personal injury lawyer to handle your claim to get the maximum damages possible. Contact a lawyer today for a free case evaluation.


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At Morris Law Accident Injury Lawyers, we have provided compassionate and aggressive counsel to personal injury victims in Horry County, Aiken County, and throughout South Carolina since 2016. We are available 24/7/365 days of the year. Reach out and get your case evaluated at no cost.