When most people think about car accident lawsuits, they think about fault. Whose fault was the accident? Who had a green light? Was anyone drinking? Was anyone texting? After those questions have been resolved, attention turns to the effects of the accident. How much harm was caused? Who was injured? How badly was that person injured? In legalese, these questions relate to the concept of "damages," or the injured person's compensable losses stemming from the accident.
In pedestrian car accident cases, damages generally fit into one of four categories:
This category of damages is probably the simplest and least controversial. If a negligent driver hits a pedestrian, the driver should have to pay the pedestrian’s resulting medical expenses. Few people will argue with that proposition.
But disputes can arise. For example, a 45-year-old pedestrian with a weak heart is crossing the street. A driver is reading a text and doesn’t see a red light until it’s too late. The driver slams on the brakes and is able to reduce the speed of the vehicle to 5 miles-per-hour before striking the pedestrian. The pedestrian suffers only a few bruises from the impact, but also suffers a heart attack out of fear and surprise.
Should the driver have to pay for medical treatment necessitated by the heart attack? Most pedestrians would not have had a heart attack and could have walked away virtually unscathed from the accident. But most courts would find that the driver is liable for all medical expenses incurred by the pedestrian as a result of the collision, even if most people would not have needed the treatment.
These are also usually pretty simple, routine damages. A driver must compensate a pedestrian for any work missed by the pedestrian as a result of the collision. Again, these damages might be higher or lower depending on who the pedestrian is. A construction worker may take significantly longer to get back to work than someone who works at a desk. Some people’s wages may be significantly higher than others. Even if the pedestrian’s lost wages are higher than most other people’s would be, the driver will be stuck paying them.
Now we’re getting to the controversial stuff. What is the value of one year of chronic back pain? Ten thousand dollars? One hundred thousand dollars? One million dollars?
These are questions that have no objective answer, but courts need to try to answer them anyway, and they do so by awarding pain and suffering damages as a component of a personal injury lawsuit. In practice, the judge will ask the jury to answer those questions, based on the evidence, after a finding that the defendant is in fact liable.
A 30-year-old parent of two children is struck by a car while crossing the street and paralyzed from the waist down. The parent was an avid mountain climber and played volleyball, soccer, and gymnastics recreationally. The parent was looking forward to sharing these activities with the children. Should the driver have to compensate the parent for the change in lifestyle? If so, how much compensation is appropriate?
These damages are referred to as “loss of normal life” or "loss of enjoyment." Again, they are very subjective and very dependent on who the pedestrian is. Some able-bodied people would not have a significant change in lifestyle if they suddenly became permanently injured. Others would have their entire worlds flipped upside down. The latter would be entitled to more compensation than the former. But again, the exact amount would be up to a jury to decide.