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What Types of Damages Are Recoverable in Personal Injury Law?

A personal injury case begins with establishing negligence, which is the recognition of a legal duty and breach of that legal duty. Then, the injury case requires establishment of the second prong of causation. Finally, damages are the last part of a plaintiff's case that must be established. An injured party can potentially recover damages in a personal injury suit if he or she is able to prove three things:

  • that an entity, company, or person was negligent
  • that the negligence of the entity, company, or person was the cause of the injured party's injury
  • that the injured party's conduct was not negligent

There are two classes of damages that an injured party can potentially recover in a personal injury lawsuit. Those two classifications are compensatory damages and punitive damages. It is important to realize that just because there are two types of damages available as potential remedies to personal injury litigants, it does not necessarily translate into a claimant's ability to recover both types (or even one type) of damages.

First Type of Damages: Compensatory Damages

Just what is meant by compensatory damages? These damages are a form of payment or compensation for the injured party's losses and injuries sustained. The types of compensatory injuries include bodily injuries, past and future effects of injuries on the injured party's overall health and function (such as physical impairment), past disfigurement, future disfigurement, past physical pain, future physical pain, mental distress or anguish, inconvenience, medical costs previously incurred, future medical costs, lost past wages or earnings, lost future earning capacity, loss of consortium, loss of domestic or household services, and damage to property.

Compensatory damages include economic damages (loss of things that cost money) and non-economic damages (intangible types of losses). Non-economic damages include pain, suffering, embarrassment, humiliation, disfigurement, loss of domestic or household services, and lost ability to enjoy the pleasures of life.

Second Type of Damages: Punitive Damages

What about punitive damages? This type of damages is referred to in the legal industry shorthand as "punitives." As a starting premise, punitives are not recoverable in all circumstances. Punitives are neither economic damages nor non-economic damages because they are not intended to compensate for any loss. Instead, this type of damages is used sparingly in limited situations to punish the party who caused the injury. The legislative and public policy purposes behind punitive damages are to address the tortfeasor's behavior that is considered to be so reckless or hazardous that lawmakers deem the conduct a demonstration of malice or willful disregard for others' safety, health, and rights. It is not often that punitives are actually paid to the injured party in a personal injury case because they are so limited.