Nothing can undo an injury after it happens. In a wrongful death case or survival action, the losses are irreversible. The law cannot turn back time – so courts will try to “offset” the losses of personal injury victims and wrongful death survivors with financial compensation.
This is how the law works to make victims and survivors “whole” again – as close as possible to the type of position they would’ve been in had the injury or death never happened.
The financial compensation you get in a successful personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit is called damages. There are 3 types of damages that cover different types of losses: economic or “specific” damages, non-economic or “general” damages, and punitive damages.
Depending on the facts of your case and the severity of your injuries, your damages may reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
Your damages should cover all of your needs related to your injury – even expenses or losses you might experience years or decades down the line. The biggest mistake survivors make is agreeing to a low settlement that doesn’t actually support them in the long term. You can avoid this by working with a personal injury lawyer to prove the full damages you deserve.
Economic or “Specific” Damages
Economic damages are the most straightforward type, covering expenses like medical bills and lost income. As long as your injury caused the loss, it should be covered in a lawsuit.
Economic damages may add up to more than you might think. Insurance companies definitely don’t want you to know how much you’re actually entitled to in a settlement.
For one, your damages should cover not just your past and present expenses, but your future bills, too. Some injuries have long-term or even lifelong effects. Whoever is responsible for your injury is responsible for the full impact of that injury on your life.
That means your damages should cover potential expenses like in-home care or nursing home care. If you become unable to work, your damages should cover all the potential income you expect to lose. If you had 30 years of a career ahead of you, that adds up to a lot.
How Do You Calculate Economic Damages?
The following could be used as evidence to prove your economic damages:
- Any bills outstanding or already paid for medical care, hospital stays, rehabilitative care, supportive care, medications, and any other treatments related to your injury.
- A record of the hours of work you’ve missed because of your injury.
- An estimate of the amount of work you can expect to miss in the future, using your prior career trajectory and the market rate for your skills.
- The value of childcare if the primary child caretaker in your household is injured.
- An estimate of the cost for long-term, inpatient, or in-home care based on your needs.
When all is said and done, you may be entitled to far more than what you thought. A lawsuit could even cover home renovations (such as ramps) if they’re accommodating your injury – or a rental car for when your vehicle is getting repaired or replaced after a car accident.
Non-Economic or “General” Damages
Of course, the effects of an injury are rarely just physical. The more severe your physical injuries, the more you’re likely to suffer physical, emotional, and mental pain.
Just because your losses may not be visible on the surface doesn’t mean you didn’t suffer. The law agrees that you should be compensated for the full extent of your experience.
How Do You Calculate Non-Economic Damages?
But how do you put a monetary value on pain and suffering? It may seem too abstract, but an experienced lawyer will know how to prove the invisible impact of your injuries. You can show:
- A record of seeing mental health professionals or taking psychiatric medication
- Prescriptions for medication taken to manage your physical pain
- Disfigurement or permanent disability that drastically affects your life
- The likelihood of your injuries causing a shorter lifespan or greater chance of future harm
Whoever is responsible for your injuries should be accountable for all the harm that they’ve caused. The law is on your side so that you can get the compensation you deserve.
While economic and non-economic damages help offset your losses, punitive damages punish the person responsible for your injuries. You can’t get punitive damages in every case, though. Punitive damages only come into play when someone acted fraudulently, intentionally, maliciously, or with complete disregard for the safety of others.
Punitive damages allow courts to punish bad actors and discourage others from repeating their actions. You could get punitive damages in your case if, for example:
- A company knew that its product was defective but lied about it
- A property owner allowed their premises to fall into disrepair
- The person responsible for your injuries tried to cover up their involvement
- A driver intentionally causes a crash because of road rage
California allows punitive damages and has no cap on the maximum amount you can receive.
How Do You Calculate Punitive Damages?
How do courts determine the appropriate amount of punishment when it comes to punitive damages? That varies by state, but California generally tries to stay in a 1:10 ratio.
That means if you were awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages (both economic and non-economic), you can potentially get up to $2,500,000 in punitive damages.
Punitive damages are given at the discretion of juries and judges, and take into account:
- How reprehensible and morally offensive was the conduct that caused the injury?
- What is the financial position of the person responsible for the injury? In the case of a multinational corporation, compensatory damages may not be enough to reflect the harm caused by their behavior. Punitive damages can make a stronger point.
- Will punitive damages reflect the actual harm suffered by the victim?
The stronger your case, the stronger your chances of getting punitive damages – and more damages in general. You should never agree to a settlement offer before talking to a lawyer. You could be owed far more than what the insurance companies want you to think.
At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, our experienced personal injury lawyers fight for every dollar you deserve. Your consultation is free and we work on a contingency basis – which means you don’t pay us until we recover damages for you. Contact us now to get started on your case.