Depending on the circumstances of a car accident, injured parties may be entitled to seek compensation for three categories of damages, including economic, non-economic, and exemplary damages. Injured victims are most commonly compensated for economic damages. Less frequently, defendants may also be required to compensate injured parties for non-economic and exemplary damages. For example, compensation for any pain and suffering caused by the accident may be compensated as non-economic damages.
A court orders that economic damages and non-economic damages be covered by defendants in an attempt to make injured parties whole again. Of course, no amount of money can bring a lost loved one back or erase the pain and trauma caused by the accident. However, victims deserve compensation for losses they would not have incurred had the accident not happened. Importantly, compensation can help to alleviate the financial burdens caused by the accident.
Special damages, often referred to as economic damages, are those that compensate a plaintiff for actual, tangible losses. In other words, economic damages cover costs that have a specific, quantifiable price.
In a car accident claim, economic damages may include:
- Past medical expenses, including any medical costs incurred from the date of the accident to the date of the settlement or jury award following a trial.
- Future medical expenses, which include medical expenses you are expected to incur after a settlement or conclusion of a jury trial, can be included in your car accident claim.
- Past lost wages, include wages missed when you couldn’t work due to treatment or recovery for your accident injuries. Lost wages, too, may be calculated from the date of the accident to the date of the settlement or jury award, following the conclusion of a trial.
- Future lost income. Future lost income is the earnings you expect you will lose in the future as a result of injuries sustained in an accident. Even if you return to work, if you can’t perform in the same capacity as you did before the accident, you can collect damages for the differential between your prior and current wages.
- Loss of inheritance may be available if you lose a loved one who would have received an inheritance had he or she lived through the accident. For example, if the decedent was receiving income from the trust from a deceased family member, and that income stops upon death, their spouse and/or children may be entitled to compensation for lost inheritance.
- Replacement or repair of damaged or destroyed personal property, including your vehicle and any personal property that was in your vehicle at the time of the accident.
- Funeral, burial, and cremation expenses.
General damages, often referred to as non-economic damages, are the intangible impacts caused by the accident that do not have a set price tag. Non-economic damages are typically awarded to victims whose accident injuries cause long-term or permanent limitations or disabilities.
The Social Security Administration defines a long-term disability as one that your doctors expect to last longer than 12 months or to result in your death. Insurance providers, who typically facilitate the resolution of car accident claims may have their own definition of long-term or permanent disabilities.
Non-economic damages may include:
- Pain and suffering. To be eligible for pain and suffering, you must have long-term or permanent injuries that doctors expect to cause you pain for an extended period. For example, back injuries commonly cause individuals chronic pain and suffering that may be included in a demand for non-economic damages.
- Emotional distress. The trauma of an unexpected car accident causes many people to suffer from emotional distress. Additionally, long-term or permanent disabilities from accident injuries may cause individuals to suffer from depression or anxiety when learning to cope with limitations.
- Loss of the use of a body part or bodily function, such as a hand or your eyesight.
- Amputation of a body part.
- Disfigurement, caused by significant scarring from burns or road rash, or disfigurement resulting from necessary reconstructive surgeries.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy activities and events with your family because of injuries you suffered in a car accident.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse as a result of injuries you suffered in an accident.
- Inconvenience if you can no longer perform household chores and must hire services to complete them, including housekeeping, shopping, or home and lawn maintenance.
Each insurance company has its own formula to determine the value they are willing to pay for compensating pain and suffering. More severe injuries will receive a higher offer.
No laws require insurance companies to pay any amount of non-economic damages. If the insurance company does not believe your long-term or permanent disabilities are severe, it may try to pay you less, or nothing at all, for non-economic damages.
Insurance companies may attempt to discredit and devalue your claims, ultimately refusing to pay sufficient economic damages. However, it is much easier for insurance companies to deny compensation for non-economic damages, especially if the insurance company believes you were at fault.
Injured parties should consult an experienced car accident attorney before speaking with representatives of insurance companies. After retaining an attorney you can direct all accident-related communication to him or her, ensuring that you will not say anything that the other party may use against you, and that the insurance company won’t try to shortchange you.
Lastly, accident victims may be entitled to recover exemplary damages, which are also known as punitive damages. Punitive damages serve as a form of punishment to deter especially egregious behavior in the future. Injured parties must request exemplary damages from the court and also have the burden of proving the defendant’s behavior was egregious, or grossly negligent.
If you suffered injuries in a car accident, contact a car accident lawyer today to see if you have a case and explore your options if you do.