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What’s the Definition of “Damages” in Legal Terms?

Published on Nov 19, 2021 at 7:56 am in Personal Injury.
What’s the Definition of “Damages” in Legal Terms?

The definition of “damages” in legal terms is a sum of money a person is entitled to after another party causes them harm through a breach of duty or violation of a right. If you are injured due to the fault of another person, company, or group—perhaps in a car accident, truck accident, slip and fall incident, instance of nursing home abuse, or another kind of personal injury accident—you may be eligible to receive damages. Damages is a legal term that becomes very important if you are injured in an accident.

A personal injury lawyer’s job is to defend the rights of individuals who are unfairly injured because of another party’s negligence. Residents of Kentucky who have been hurt in an accident have the option to contact a qualified personal injury lawyer in Georgetown to learn more about the legal actions following an injury.

After learning what is meant by “damages,” let’s take a look at the types of damages in law, and how damages are determined in a personal injury lawsuit.

Types of Damages: Compensatory vs. Punitive

The term damages covers two types—compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages provide justice to someone who was wronged, while punitive damages are designed to punish a negligent party and prevent future harm. Compensatory damages are awarded much more frequently in personal injury cases than punitive damages. When a court decides to award punitive damages, it is because the defendant’s behavior has been deemed especially injurious and deserving of punishment.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are also referred to as actual damages. They are meant to compensate the losses that the injured party suffered. Most people are more familiar with compensatory damages, as this is the type of damages most commonly awarded in personal injury cases. The amount of money awarded will be based on the level of harm, loss, or injury suffered by the plaintiff (the injured party taking legal action against the defendant).

Compensatory damages can further be divided into two categories: special damages and general damages. Special damages, or economic damages, are the ones which cover direct monetary losses, such as medical bills. General damages, or non-economic damages, cover the more subjective and less monetary-related damages a plaintiff may suffer, such as emotional anguish.

Let’s look at special damages first.

Special damages are based on expenses that can be directly calculated. Personal injury lawyers gather evidence like hospital bills and auto repair bills to prove the expenses the plaintiff incurred as a result of the injury. Some examples of special damages include:

  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • The cost of fixing or replacing damaged property
  • Past and future medical costs
  • Lost wages or loss of future income
  • Litigation costs
  • Transportation costs
  • Home caretaking or personal assistance costs
  • Fees for services required following an injury
  • Funeral and burial costs in a wrongful death case

Next, let’s look more closely at what is covered under the term general damages.

General damages are less quantifiable, but have a very real impact on a person’s life. These damages are non-economic, and so they address things that do not necessarily have a piece of documented evidence, like a bill, attached. Therefore, general damages are sometimes more challenging for a personal injury lawyer to calculate and prove than special damages. General damages can cover:

    • Pain and suffering
    • Mental anguish
    • Anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mental health disorders
    • Diminished quality of life
    • Loss of enjoyment of life
    • Loss of consortium (loss of a spouse or other close relationship)
    • Damage to one’s reputation
    • Permanent disfigurement
    • Shortened life expectancy
    • Increased risk of future harm

Punitive Damages

The other type of damages we’ve mentioned is referred to as punitive damages. Punitive damages can also be called “exemplary damages,” as they are intended to “set an example” so the negligent behavior does not happen again in the future. Punitive damages are never awarded on their own, only when compensatory damages have already been awarded. They are relatively rare in personal injury cases—given in only about 5% of verdicts. Only in cases in which it is determined that the defendant acted fraudulently, intentionally, or willfully and wantonly will punitive damages be considered.

Past cases involving punitive damages include lawsuits in which a drunk driver killed passengers or other drivers, companies knowingly sold or manufactured toxic products, or corporations willfully defrauded the public. In these situations, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for severe negligence or intentional harm. In many cases in which punitive damages are awarded, the defendant is a large corporation or organization. Punitive damages are sometimes awarded in the following types of cases:

  • Gross negligence
  • Defective or lethal products
  • Severe cases of drunk driving
  • Dangerous conduct
  • Pharmaceutical company malpractice
  • Negligence that occurs in combination with criminal conduct
  • Violation of anti-discrimination laws

While many states have “caps,” or limits, on the amount of punitive damages that can awarded in a personal injury case, Kentucky does not have a punitive damages cap. Whether or not punitive damages are awarded—and the amount of money that is awarded—depends entirely on the circumstances of the case and the decision made by the court.

How Are Damages Calculated in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

There is no single method or formula used to calculate how much the plaintiff is entitled to in a personal injury case. A personal injury attorney will need to work thoroughly to take all factors into consideration for adequate compensation. The total sum of damages will be based on a combination of special damages and general damages, and in some cases punitive damages.

There are many factors that need to be considered when determining the amount you as the plaintiff should rightly receive. Your personal injury lawyer will ask you lots of questions in order to fully understand how the injury has impacted your life. One of the advantages of hiring a personal injury lawyer is that they may be able to determine damages you did not know you were entitled to. Many people are familiar with compensation for expenses like medical bills, but some may not be aware that injuries like emotional pain or PTSD are deserving of compensation under the law.

If you were involved in an accident that resulted in injury, or if you would like to continue a discussion about how damages are applied to personal injury cases, please contact the Law Office of Todd W. Burris by phone, web, or in person. Our office can help you schedule a free, no-obligation attorney consultation to discuss your questions and legal options.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice. Viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Prior case results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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