Damages in Your Personal Injury Case

An overview explanation of how losses are compensated in a personal injury claim.

After an accident, if your civil lawsuit for personal injury is successful, you can collect financial compensation for all losses stemming from the at-fault party's negligence or other wrongdoing. These losses are called "damages."

Specific damages available in a personal injury claim vary depending on the type of case, the nature and extent of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff, and the laws of the state. In this article, we'll look at the different types of damages that could come into play in a personal injury case.

Medical Bills

After any kind of accident, if the plaintiff must undergo testing or receive medical care of any kind—from ER visits to hospital stays and physical therapy—the defendant must pay for the costs of that medical treatment.

Medical bills can really add up in a personal injury case, especially in cases involving long-term injuries or permanent disability. The medical bills/medical treatment component of damages will include the cost of care already received, and the cost of care that will be necessary in the future.

It's important to note that sometimes plaintiffs must turn over some portion of recovered damages to their health insurer if the insurer has been paying accident-related medical bills prior to a personal injury settlement or court award. Learn more about medical liens in personal injury cases.

Lost Income

Compensation for lost wages or lost income is another aspect of a damages award in a personal injury case. This includes payment for any work that a plaintiff had to miss because of the injury or to receive treatment for the injury. If a plaintiff was able to take vacation days or sick time, he or she still should be compensated for the loss of that paid time off (PTO). If a plaintiff has been left permanently unable to work, a financial/economic expert may need to give his or her opinion on the plaintiff's future lost income and lost earning capacity.

"Pain and Suffering"

An injured person's medical bills and lost income are considered "economic" damages, since these losses are fairly easy to capture with a dollar figure. The other main component of damages in a personal injury case is "non-economic" damages, which includes compensation for the injured person's "pain and suffering." These are the more subjective effects of the accident and injuries, including:

  • physical pain caused by the accident itself
  • physical discomfort resulting from necessary medical treatment, and
  • mental anguish, sleeplessness, anxiety, and other more psychological effects of the accident and resulting injuries.

Learn more about pain and suffering in a personal injury case.

Emotional Distress

When an accident or injury impacts a plaintiff's mental health, a claim for emotional distress might be possible. But these kinds of damages usually need to be substantiated through diagnosis or treatment by a mental health care provider. Learn more about emotional distress damages in a personal injury case.

Wrongful Death

Wrongful death lawsuits are brought by the family members of someone killed by the defendant's negligence or an intentional act. Categories of damages that might be available in these kinds of claims include:

  • the deceased person's pre-death "pain and suffering"
  • medical bills incurred by the deceased prior to death
  • funeral/burial costs
  • loss of the deceased person's expected income
  • value of services the deceased would have provided, and
  • loss of care, guidance, and nurturing the deceased would have provided.

Loss of Companionship/Loss of Consortium

These are damages suffered by the injured person's spouse, partner, or close family member, in terms of their relationship with the injured person. In some states, "loss of consortium" is a standalone claim meant to compensate a spouse for loss of an intimate physical relationship with the injured person.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages, although paid to the plaintiff, are not intended to make the plaintiff whole. Instead, their purpose is to punish the defendant for particularly egregious wrongful behavior and to act as a deterrent for this sort of behavior. Punitive damages are rare in a personal injury case, but when justified, they can boost the value of the plaintiff's case significantly. Learn more about punitive damages and gross negligence in an injury case.

Caps on Damages

Understanding the difference between economic damages and non-economic damages is important because some states have legislated "damages caps" as part of tort reform efforts. These caps typically limit non-economic damages, sometimes only in certain types of cases. For example, California limits non-economic damages (which includes pain and suffering) in medical malpractice cases.

To learn more about the kinds of losses that might be compensable in your case, and for more information that's tailored to your specific situation, it might be time to talk with an attorney. Learn more about finding the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.

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