Proving Damages Caused by the City

If you're making an injury claim against the city, you'll demand compensation for damages just like any other personal injury case, but you may be limited in your recovery.

For some injury claims, a city or local government may be legally liable for your damages. For example, on your way to pay your water bill, you slip and fall in a puddle of water on the floor of the municipal building. If the city can be held responsible for your injuries under negligence law, how can you prove the amount and extent of damages that you have sustained? This article addresses proving damages in a negligence claim against a city.

Special Rules for Government Liability

Injury claims against a city or government require you to follow a different procedure than you would in a case against a private individual or business. You'll likely need to file a "notice of claim" that puts the government on notice that you have been injured and that you intend to seek compensation. You usually have a pretty short amount of time to get this claim filed, and what happens after you file depends on the rules in place where you live.

Components of Your Damages

In any injury case, the law requires that a plaintiff prove that he or she suffered "damages" as a result of the defendant's conduct. Damages refers to all the losses that are associated with the accident and injury -- not only medical bills, but also lost wages, out-of-pocket costs, inconvenience, and general "pain and suffering."

Medical Bills

It is extremely important for an injured plaintiff to not only seek appropriate medical care immediately after any injury, but also to keep track of all of his or her medical treatment. You may find it helpful to keep a written journal of all of your healthcare appointments, and to indicate whether there were any out-of-pocket costs (such as co-pays) for a particular visit.

Once your physicians have determined that you have reached a point of maximum recovery, you should request a complete copy of all of your medical records -- including treatment records and any diagnostic test results.

You should also request copies of all your medical bills. If possible, ask that the bills simply show the cost of care, without reference to the amount (if any) that was paid by insurance or written off by the hospital. This is because the value or your claim should be based on the actual cost of treatment, not on the amount that you or your insurance company paid.

Lost Wages

You can also get compensation for lost wages or reduced income. Keep track of all the days, or partial days, of work that are missed as a result of the accident. Records of wage history from an employer can be very helpful in establishing the amount of lost wages incurred. The more information that you can provide about your employment and wages, the better.

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering is a legal term that refers to a host of often non-quantifiable damages including physical pain and discomfort, as well as emotional and mental injuries like fear, insomnia, grief, worry, inconvenience and even the loss of the enjoyment of life.

It's obviously not all that easy to put a dollar value on these kinds of damages, but there are a few common factors to consider.

Limits on Damages in Injury Claims Against the Government

In some states and municipalities, your claim might be subject to caps in terms of the amount and/or type of damages you can recover for your injuries. For example, your state's laws might dictate that you can recover for all of your medical bills and other economic losses, but your non-economic damages (which include "pain and suffering") are capped at $50,000. Or, your injury claim might be subject to a comprehensive cap of $100,000 for all varieties of damages. So, it's important to check the law in your state when it comes to injury claims against the government.

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