Car accidents occur by the thousands each day. In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 6 million accidents each year, which injure 3 million people and kill another 32,000 drivers and passengers. And while you know the risk of getting behind the wheel, there’s also a belief that other drivers will make smart decisions to keep you safe. If they fail to live up to this expectation, you may be able to recover damages in the form of financial compensation.
Types of Compensatory Damages in Car Accident Injury Cases
“In a personal injury case, money damages are paid to an injured person (the plaintiff) by the person or company who is found to be legally responsible for the accident (the defendant or their insurer),” Nolo explains. “A damage award can be agreed upon after a negotiated settlement – among the parties, their insurance companies, and their attorneys, for example – or may be ordered by a judge or jury following a court trial.”
The majority of personal injury damages are categorized as “compensatory.” This means that they’re intended to compensate the injured party – i.e. you – for what was lost as a result of the accident. The goal is to make the injured plaintiff “whole” again (monetarily speaking).
“Minor injuries will result in minimum losses for you, though you still deserve to be compensated for these losses and can file a claim,” Michael Cordova explains. “However, serious injuries can change your life forever and will increase the value of your claim.”
Here’s a look at some of the basic types of compensatory damage that frequently stem from auto accident injury cases:
- Medical expenses. First and foremost, you have a right to recover compensation for your medical bills and any future/ongoing treatment you may receive as a result of the accident. This may include medications, procedures, therapy, adaptive devices, or long-term care services.
- Loss of wages. If the car accident caused injuries that prevented you from going to work and earning an income, you have a right to recover financial compensation in the form of lost wages. If you’re permanently disabled, or your career is likely to be negatively impacted as a result of the accident, you can also claim a loss of future wages and earning power.
- Pain and suffering. When significant injuries are in play, you may be awarded compensation for your pain and suffering. In many cases, this represents the single biggest portion of the award.
- Loss of consortium. If your injuries have impacted you in a significant way – physically or emotionally – a spouse or close family member can pursue compensation for loss of consortium/companionship.
This is far from a comprehensive list of compensatory damages, but it gives you an idea of what can be reasonably expected in car accident injury cases.
A Note on Punitive Damages in Car Accident Injury Cases
In mast car accident cases, compensatory damages make up most or all of the settlement or damage award. However, in certain cases where the defendant’s conduct is deemed to be particularly egregious or overwhelmingly careless, it’s possible for a judge to award punitive damages on top of compensatory damages.
Whereas compensatory damages are designed to make the injured plaintiff “whole,” punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for poor or irresponsible conduct. It’s intended to act as a deterrent. Punitive damages can often reach millions of dollars, which is why most states put a cap on the amount that can be awarded.
How Your Involvement Can Impact Your Damages
As the plaintiff, there are certain factors that can limit or lessen the value of your claim. For example, in states with comparative negligence laws, you can be held partially responsible for the accident. If you’re deemed to be 25 percent responsible, you’ll only be able to access 75 percent of the damages.
While rare, some states operate on a contributory negligence basis for personal injury lawsuits. This means you may not be able to receive any compensation if it’s deemed that you’re partially to blame for the accident.
Finally, there’s an expectation that car collision victims will seek reasonable medical treatment after an accident. If it’s shown that you didn’t seek any treatment for days or weeks after the collision and that, by failing to get necessary treatment, you made the injuries worse, you could forfeit your rights to damages.
For additional information on your situation and the types of damages that may be in play, contact an experienced car accident attorney in your state.