Personal Injury 101: Understanding What We Mean by ‘Damages’

Accidents can cause permanent disabilitiesInjuries and deaths are common when people are hurt by the negligence of others. When injured parties or their families file personal injury lawsuits, or Google how to, there may be some confusion on what personal injury lawyers mean by ‘damages’.

Damages are monetary awards granted to victims after the successful outcome of personal injury lawsuits. Personal injury lawsuits deal with economic and non-economic damages (and punitive damages in rarer circumstances). There are major differences between these two types of damages that are important to understand. To help illustrate how both work, we are going to discuss a hypothetical example.

Ted is an LSU law school student driving home to visit his parents in Lafayette during spring break. He has perfect grades, a beautiful fiancée and plenty of friends. While driving along I-10, his car’s engine suddenly stops with no warning, causing him to lose control and crash into a ditch. An emergency helicopter ride to a nearby hospital saves his life, but his ordeal is far from over.

Two weeks later, he wakes up from a medically induced coma surrounded by family. His doctor breaks the bad news; he suffered a spinal cord injury and is now a quadriplegic. Unable to care for himself, he is forced to drop out of law school and move back home. His medical expenses are in the hundreds of thousands even with insurance coverage. An investigation into the accident reveals he was another victim of a faulty ignition switch from a major auto manufacturer.

Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits

Let’s use Ted’s case to break down how damages work. We already know Ted has incurred hundreds of thousands in medical bills from his accident. He is also on the hook for $85,000 in student loans from undergraduate and law school. If he and his family file a lawsuit against the auto manufacturer, these are the economic damages that would likely be taken into account. Economic damages include medical bills, lost income and other expenses. You can easily put a price on them.

Ted’s pain and suffering is enormous. He is forced to call off his wedding. Most of his friends move on with their lives and his dreams of becoming an attorney are over. Pain and suffering damages are called ‘non-economic damages’. Ted has lost many of the things in life that gave him happiness. Many of the daily aspects of life we may take for granted are no longer accessible to Ted. You can’t put a direct price on these losses, but they are still devastating losses that need to be considered.

Ted’s story can help illustrate what victims of negligence may experience, and how damages are awarded in personal injury cases. Our example is hypothetical, and these cases can vary considerably.


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