What Are The Differences Between Economic, Non-Economic, And Punitive Damages In A Personal Injury Case?

What Are The Differences Between Economic, Non-Economic, And Punitive Damages In A Personal Injury Case?

Determining the true or appropriate value of a personal injury case can be quite complex. Compensation that can potentially be awarded for losses sustained in a personal injury case is known as “damages.” If you are injured by the recklessness or negligence of someone else (or business or government entity), you are well within your legal right to seek a recovery for all losses (i.e., damages) that resulted from the personal injury event.

Damages, in this regard, are categorized into two primary groups – economic damages and non-economic damages. It is noted that punitive damages, designed to punish the defendant for their negligent or reckless choices, can be awarded as part of a personal injury lawsuit.

The damages involved in a Eugene personal injury case are best understood with the help of a qualified attorney.  Here’s what is important to know about economic damages.

Economic or Special Damages in a Personal Injury Case

The economic damages in a personal injury lawsuit are the real, actual financial losses sustained because of the injury. An accident that leaves another injured can cause financial losses and hardships in both indirect as well as direct ways. Direct and indirect financial losses combine to equal the total economic damages that can be awarded in a personal injury case.

Economic damages, which are known in the legal arena as special damages, are awarded by the court. Economic damages are designed to compensate for the loss of earnings, property damage caused by the event, medical expenses, and any other quantifiable and calculable economic losses that resulted due to the action caused by the defendant’s actions and choices.

In its calculations of damages, the court will consider these expenses, among others –

  • Medical bills that have been submitted to an insurance company related to the incident.
  • Lost wages as measured by missed work time.
  • Actual property damages associated with the injury.

What Are The Differences Between Economic, Non-Economic, And Punitive Damages In A Personal Injury Case?

Special or economic damages and non-economic damages are awarded as a legal remedy that seeks to return the plaintiff to the same place they were prior to the injury. In the law, this is known as making someone whole. [Non-economic damages are discussed below.]

The following details typical expenses related to economic damages –

Past & Future Medical Bills

Medical bills caused by an accidental incident will qualify as an economic loss. Medical bills that qualify as economic damages include the following expenses –

  • Emergency Room Costs.
  • Urgent Care Expenses.
  • Travel Costs To Medical Appointments.
  • Diagnostic Testing Costs.
  • X-Rays Fees.
  • Blood Tests Fees.
  • Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medicines Expenses.
  • Follow-Up Visits to a Doctor.
  • Physical Therapy Costs.
  • Physical Therapy Aids.
  • Mobility Aids Like Crutches, Braces, And Wheelchairs.
  • Occupational Therapy Expenses.
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Mental Health Costs

The cost of therapy and other mental health treatment options are included in the calculation of economic damages. Treatment fees and expenses that may be covered include various modalities designed for mental health conditions. Anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or other mental health conditions may result from an accident or injury.

Lost Wages

Lost wages refer to the actual income that was lost due to injuries sustained in an accident. If the event keeps someone home from work for two months, then the economic damages for lost wages would be equivalent to the income (including bonuses or tips) that would have been earned during that two-month period.

Future Lost Earning Capacity

If an injury keeps you home for months or years (or even indefinitely), the lost capacity to earn in the future would be considered another type of economic damage. If the accident causes you to miss a promotion or transition to a new job due to limitations, the reduction in the potential income can be considered as part of the potential economic damages. Note: however, based on its complexity, an accurate calculation may have to be done by an occupational expert.

Property Damages

Damage to tangible property is another type of economic loss. The value may be calculated based on –

  • The cost to repair the item.
  • If the item cannot be replaced, one can use the item’s fair market value or the cost to replace the item.

Household Assistance Services

When involved or injured in an accident, you may need help with everyday chores and your other life responsibilities. These external costs, associated with the help required to manage daily life, are included as a part of one’s economic damages.

Non-economic or General Damages in a Personal Injury Case

Non-economic damages refer to the damages awarded in a personal injury case to compensate the plaintiff for non-financial losses. The purpose of non-economic damages is to compensate an injured party for intangible losses resulting from a personal injury accident. However, non-economic damages are subjective, and the amounts awarded may vary and, in some cases, be quite substantial.

Losses that are non-measurable or challenging to quantify are included as non-economic or general damages. For instance, non-economic damages may include compensation for physical pain, mental health injuries, disfigurement as well as the loss of one’s lifestyle, among others.

An attorney representing you in your Eugene personal injury case will include non-economic damages within the total compensation claim.

Mental & Emotional Damages

Emotional and mental harm can be, at least, if not more impactful, than visible physical injuries. Emotional injuries may force someone to sit out of activities that were once enjoyable, or simply cause depression or anxiety through the experience of flashbacks. Emotional or mental harm is a part of non-economic damages in a personal injury lawsuit.

Non-economic Damages Examples

Non-economic damages refer to a broad category of compensatory damages that accounts for non-monetary losses that result from an injury. These include, in part, –

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  • Pain – An injury from an accident often results in tremendous physical pain. Non-economic damages may include specific compensation for the physical pain one must endure as the result of a personal injury that has been caused by someone else’s recklessness or negligence.
  • Emotional Distress – Being involved (or victimized) in a personal injury accident can cause tremendous emotional distress or anguish. This emotional anguish can be included as part of personal injury lawsuit damages.
  • Disfigurement and/or Scars – If an accident leaves you with permanent injuries, disfigurement, or scars, these too may be included as part of the non-economic damages in a personal injury lawsuit.  While scaring or disfigurement is not technically a financial loss, the result can impact one’s life significantly.
  • Humiliation or Damage to Reputation – an accident that results in an injury has far-reaching effects on the injured individual. This may include damage to a professional or personal reputation or simply a modification of one’s social standing.
  • Loss of Enjoyment – An injury may cause a short- or long-term disruption to someone’s typical daily routine. Injuries sustained in an accident may make it impossible for you to engage in the activities that once brought joy and enjoyment. Examples of this type of non-economic damage include the inability to play a musical instrument or perhaps the inability to enjoy skiing with your family.  If you suffer from the loss of enjoyment due to an accident, it is important to seek and claim the compensation you deserve.
  • Mental Injuries – Mental or emotional issues from an accident may manifest in a number of ways. They may include worry, anxiety, grief, depression, stress, or fear, among others. Psychological injuries brought on by the negligence or recklessness of someone else may potentially receive non-economic compensatory damages through a court order. And note the value of the non-economic damages represents the mental anguish brought on with the need to cope with significant medical trauma. The cost of treating those mental or emotional issues is a separate expense that may be included in economic damages.

Non-economic damages may also include compensation for the injury itself or the loss of companionship.

The court is tasked with providing a jury with detailed instructions outlining those items that can be included as general or specific damages. The jury then decides the economic and non-economic compensatory damages based on the extent of the responsible party’s negligence or recklessness.

There are instances in which the negligence or recklessness of the defendant rises to a level that is so egregious that the court has the option of awarding punitive damages. This is discussed next.

Punitive or Exemplary Damages in a Personal Injury Case

Punitive damages, which are also known in legal circles as exemplary damages, are neither economic nor non-economic damages. Punitive, like the word, punish, stems from punire – and is Latin for inflicting a penalty. Punitive damages are NOT designed or awarded to compensate someone victimized by another’s recklessness or negligence. Punitive damages are designed to specifically punish the offender.

Punitive damages serve as a deterrent, and they act as a warning and make an example of the defendant. But punitive damages also serve to put other potential offenders on notice.

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Punitive damages can potentially punish a large company (in the case of product liability, for example) or an individual. An individual who injures someone else because they were driving distracted or under the influence of drugs or alcohol may be ordered to pay punitive damages as punishment for their reckless choices and actions.

When calculating punitive damages, a court will determine the amount for general (non-economic) and special (economic) damages that are to be awarded. Note that punitive damages are awarded to the plaintiff, despite the fact that they are not designed as compensation but as punishment against the offender.

Are There Caps on Damages?

Economic damages are calculated based on someone’s out-of-pocket expenses. Non-economic damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for the inconvenience and suffering that is a result of an accident.

Some states limit non-economic damages based on the evidence provided with regard to economic damages. They are typically subject to a statutory cap that is based on a predetermined formula that relates to the proven economic damages.

Additionally, under federal law, non-economic damages must be reasonable or disproportionate to the economic damages that have been awarded.

A Word About Statute of Limitations & Personal Injury Lawsuits

A statute of limitations law limits the time you have to file a civil lawsuit, like a personal injury case.  Each state, as well as the federal government, has set forth mandatory deadlines for different types of cases. The purpose of this law is to ensure legal matters are dealt with promptly and to prevent long-drawn-out malicious lawsuits.

A statute of limitations law applies to the filing of the lawsuit. The lawsuit is generally filed after exhausting the insurance claim process.  While most personal injury cases settle outside the courtroom, it is essential to leave sufficient time to file should settlement talks break down, and you need to file a personal injury lawsuit.

The “clock,” with regard to the statute of limitations, begins the day of the accident or the day the injury that triggered the lawsuit occurs. In certain instances, if the injury is not discovered immediately, the statute of limitations clock may begin when the injury surfaces (or at the time when a reasonable person should have known about the injury).

Each state sets forth special circumstances in which the statute of limitations may be modified or tolled (which means to stop the clock defining the statute of limitations period). These instances may include those times when the person who was injured was a minor, mentally incapacitated, or if the offender left the state after the accident.

Ready To Discuss Your Personal Injury Case?

Accident victims strongly benefit from an attorney’s guidance, especially in contested lawsuits that require the application of complex liability theories to explain culpability. Personal injury cases may also involve a significant amount of money and require several types of legal defenses (like expert witnesses), which is likely to be challenging without a lawyer’s help.

With a Eugene personal injury lawyer at your side, you have an experienced and highly trained legal advocate to help you receive the compensatory (or punitive) damages that you deserve as a victim of someone else’s recklessness or negligence.

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