When it comes to a personal injury or wrongful death case, the potential value of your claim comes down to the damages you’ve suffered.
Personal injury and wrongful death claims are intended to allow the victim (or their survivors) to seek compensation for the damages caused by another person’s negligence. “Damages” refer to any related losses you’ve suffered as a result, including property damage, medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, lost earning ability, and more.
While it’s not always possible to put a dollar figure on things like pain and suffering or the loss of a loved one, the ultimate goal of any civil claim or lawsuit is to put the plaintiff back into the position he or she would have been in if the event had not occurred—or to otherwise “make them whole.”
I think everyone can agree that no amount of money can make up for a disabling injury or the wrongful death of a loved one, but unfortunately it’s often the only remedy available to those who’ve suffered significant losses.
This article will discuss the different categories of damages and how they apply to both personal injury and wrongful death cases. For further information or clarity, it’s vital that you discuss your case with an attorney. At Montgomery Law, we’re available to answer your questions 24 hours a day, and invite you to call us for a free consultation at 214-720-6090 (local) or 1-833-720-6090 (toll-free).
Generally, compensatory damages in a civil claim are divided into two categories: economic and non-economic.
- Economic damages refer to any objectively-verifiable monetary losses such as any lost wages, loss of future earnings, medical bills, expected future medical expenses, and more.
- Non-economic damages refer to those damages which do not have a dollar amount attached, such as pain and suffering, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, emotional distress, and more.
In rare circumstances, courts can award punitive damages (AKA exemplary damages) in cases where the defendant acted with reckless or egregious disregard or negligence. Unlike compensatory damages which aim to reimburse the victim for their losses, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and act as a deterrent to others.
Texas’ Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Section 41 puts forth the specifications for awarding punitive damages, but in general, punitive damages are usually only awarded in cases involving gross negligence, malice, and/or fraud.
1) Medical Costs
Medical expenses can including ambulance bills, ER bills, hospital stays, physical therapy, medications, long-term care, adaptive devices, and any other type of medical care the plaintiff needs resulting from the incident that caused the injury. Not only can you recover 100 percent of your existing medical expenses, but you can also seek compensation for any expected future medical needs related to the injury.
2) Lost Income
Lost income is another category of damages which can be sought in a personal injury case, and includes any wages or income the victim lost as a result of the injury itself or subsequent medical treatment. If the victim is unable to return to work due to disability or death, the plaintiff may be entitled to seek reimbursement for a lost or reduced earning capacity equal to the sum of wages that he or she would have made over the course of his or her career.
3) Pain and Suffering
Many insurance companies will attempt to settle cases involving significant pain and suffering early because of the potential for juries to award large damages for pain and suffering. Unfortunately, settling early is not to your benefit. While it can be difficult to put a dollar amount on your pain and suffering, an attorney can help by looking at what juries have awarded in similar cases, as well as through the testimony of an expert medical witness.
If your injury resulted in a disability that requires you to significantly alter your lifestyle moving forward (e.g., in-home nursing care, home renovations for accessibility, etc.), you deserve to be compensated for that as well.
4) Mental Anguish & Emotional Distress
In addition to physical harm, accidents can have serious emotional consequences as well. Emotional distress is typically based upon psychiatric treatment and records, and claims of this type must generally be accompanied by a physical injury claim. Long-term diagnoses such as PTSD can significantly increase the compensatory amount awarded for emotional distress.
5) Any and All Additional Related Losses
There are countless types of damages that can result from a significant personal injury. Any costs associated with cancelled trips or altered plans may be recoverable, and you have every right to seek compensation for other related losses, including property damage, lost income opportunities, loss of enjoyment, loss of the emotional and intangible elements of marriage, and more.
Under Texas Law, the decedent’s spouse, child(ren), and/or parents are eligible to pursue a wrongful death claim. The underlying rationale for awarding damages in wrongful death cases is that close family members may also suffer damages of their own as a result. The most-common types of damages sought in a wrongful death claim are as follows:
1) Medical & Funeral Expenses
While any pre-death medical bills may need to be included in your accompanying survival action claim, you have every right to seek compensation for these expenses, as well as any reasonable funeral or burial expenses.
2) Loss of Financial Contributions & Inheritance
A death in the family can leave dependents with a vastly reduced income, especially if the deceased was a primary wage earner. Had the wrongful death not occurred, the victim’s family would have had the benefit of this additional familial income.
In order to determine the victim’s expected future earnings (and the value of this portion of damages), your attorney will likely retain the services of an economist to calculate the deceased’s anticipated income up to the age of retirement (while taking inflation, the victim’s health, and other factors into consideration).
3) Emotional Distress & Mental Anguish
These types of damages are intended to compensate surviving family members for their emotional distress following the death of a loved one. Emotional damages in a wrongful death claim are generally awarded in cases where the survivor was a witness to the victim’s death, and and where the survivor’s suffering went beyond simple grief to include trauma or serious shock.
4) Loss of Benefits
If the victim was a working adult or receiving Social Security disability payments at the time of their death, their dependents may now be deprived of certain benefits such as health insurance, pension plans, Social Security, and/or retirement benefits.
Your attorney will calculate the probable financial total of these lost economic benefits when evaluating your total damages, and include them in your total demand.
5) Loss of Services and Support
Spouses and children of the victim may seek compensation for the pecuniary (as opposed to sentimental) value of any loss of care, protection, guidance, advice, training, domestic services, and nurturing from the deceased. However, the court must reduce these non-economic damages to present cash value.
6) Loss of Love, Society, Consortium or Companionship
This type of damage claim is typically brought by a close family member of the victim (often a spouse), and is intended to compensate the family member for their loss of the emotional and intangible elements of the relationship or marriage, including affection, intimacy, and emotional support.
7) Survival Claim Damages
One final area of damages involves survival actions. Whereas a wrongful death lawsuit is designed to compensate the decedent’s surviving family members for their losses, the lesser-known survival action is essentially the decedent’s personal injury claim that they would have been entitled to bring had they survived. Upon a victim’s death, this claim is inherited by the decedent’s heirs or estate.
Through a survival action claim, the victim’s beneficiaries (spouse, children, and parents) can seek compensation on behalf of the victim for any and all pre-death damages, including any lost wages or pain and suffering. While there’s a two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death claims in Texas, it’s important to understand that you only have one year to file a survival action.
Personal injury and wrongful death claims are complex, and insurance companies are not in the business of playing fair. A good attorney is critical to building your case and ensuring that you receive the justice and compensation you deserve.
Montgomery Law is a Dallas-based personal injury and wrongful death law firm with years of experience successfully handling these types of cases. We work exclusively on a no-win no-fee basis, and invite you to email us today or call us at 214-720-6090 (local) or 1-833-720-6090 (toll-free) for a free consultation.