Depending on the circumstances, when you are injured by someone else’s
negligence, you are generally entitled to be paid monetary damages by
that other person. While most people are likely aware of this fact, what
many people may not know, is what type of damages are compensable and
what kinds of expenses can be accounted for in compensable damages.
Damages in a personal injury case generally fall into two main categories,
i.e. special damages, and general damages. Special damages are awarded
to pay for specific out of pocket costs the injured person has expended,
or may need to expend, such as costs for medical bills, property damage
repair bills, and physical therapy bills.
Although a personal injury case, other than a wrongful death case, is likely
to resolve before the death of the injured person, the cost of future
medical care necessitated by the accident can and should be included in
the calculation for special damages. For example, in the case of a person
who sustains a traumatic brain injury in a crash, and consequently needs
round the clock care for the rest of their life, the cost of that care
should be included in the special damages determination.
Special damages do not just include medical bills and property damage.
Special damages can also include expenses such as the cost to make a home
handicap accessible, or even the cost to build a home that is handicap
accessible. In the case of severe injuries where a person’s lifestyle
is completely turned upside down, a personal injury attorney can employ
a life-care planner to provide an opinion about the types of care an injured
person will need for the rest of their life, and the cost of that care.
General damages are commonly referred to as damages for pain and suffering.
While special damages are generally fairly easily calculated, and do not
vary much from person to person so long as the people have the same injuries,
general damages have no formula for determination, and can vary widely
from one person to the next, even if both people have the same injuries.
One way to look at general damages, is to consider them as compensable
damages for a reduction in the quality of life.
It is not unreasonable to think that given the chance, a jury, when looking
at two people with identical injuries, but completely different lifestyles,
could award those people dramatically different awards for general damages.
For example, when the jury sees the first person, a person who is paralyzed
from the waist down by a car crash, and sees that before the crash that
person smoked, lived alone, could go days at a time without talking to
anyone else, and generally did little other than sit around the house
and watch TV, and then sees the second person, also paralyzed from the
waist down due to a car crash, but sees that person engaged with several
other people each day, spent a lot of time in activities outside the home
with family and friends, and jogged 5 miles three times per week, it is
not hard to see how a jury may consider the second person had a much larger
impact on their life from the crash than the first person, and therefore,
would award the second person a much large amount of general damages than
the first person.