Articles Posted in Damages

Damages in a personal injury lawsuit are designed to compensate the plaintiff for the injuries he has suffered and to put him the same position he was in before the accident occurred. Some types of damages are objective and easily calculated, such as medical expenses and lost wages. But pure economic damages are often not enough to make the plaintiff whole again. After all, he has just undergone a traumatic ordeal and suffered injuries that are not as easily quantifiable as medical bills and lost wages. This is where non-economic damages come into play. Non-economic damages are the abstract damages a plaintiff suffers during and after an accident, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.

These types of damages are a little trickier to calculate.

Measuring Pain and Suffering

You’ve probably heard of punitive damages before, most likely through a high-profile verdict against a defendant who is seen by the public as having deep pockets. Punitive damages are controversial because the purpose of a civil action is to compensate the plaintiff, not to punish the defendant. Punishment of defendants is usually reserved for the criminal courts. However, punitive damages are intended to do just that–to punish the defendant when their behavior has been particularly vicious by awarding the plaintiff monetary awards that are greater than the amount necessary purely for compensation.

To understand how punitive damages work, we’ll need to take a quick look at how damages are awarded in a civil lawsuit.

Compensatory Damages

In most personal injury lawsuits, the reason why the plaintiff was injured usually boils down to negligence. Negligence requires a showing of a duty owed to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, causation, and damages. In most cases, the duty owed is that of a “reasonably prudent person.” When the defendant’s conduct falls below that standard, he or she has breached this duty. Once the plaintiff establishes that his or her injuries were caused by this breach, a case of negligence has been established.

The compensation the plaintiff receives—known as “damages” in legal parlance—is the amount of money necessary to compensate the victim for the injury and to make him whole, as if the accident had never happened. However, this classic conception of negligence assumes that the defendant was totally at fault for the accident and that the plaintiff was blameless. What happens if the plaintiff was also partially at fault for the accident? In these cases, the courts developed the legal doctrines of contributory negligence and comparative negligence.

Contributory Negligence

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