Car accident liability claims can be divided into three major categories: General damages, special damages, and punitive damages. Depending on the circumstances of a car accident, the victims could be entitled to recover compensation for all three types of claims. However, Texas has a “modified comparative negligence” rule. In a nutshell, if one party is not at fault at all in the accident, they are entitled to collect the full amount of damages resulting from the accident. If they are less than 50 percent responsible for the accident, they may collect a portion of those damages.
Thus, if a victim (the plaintiff) decides to sue the other driver (the defendant) for crashing into them because the defendant was driving under the influence, but the plaintiff was also speeding and the court finds that the plaintiff was 40 percent at fault, the plaintiff can only collect 60 percent of the total amount of damages resulting from the accident. On the other hand, if the defendant hit the plaintiff because they went through a stop sign and the court finds that the plaintiff was 70 percent at fault for the accident, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages.
General damages are non-economic losses resulting from an accident, which can include emotional distress, pain, and suffering. Because they are non-economic, they are difficult to calculate. Lawyers and insurance companies usually use standard formulas to come up with a fair dollar amount. However, what the insurance company thinks is fair may not be fair, especially if the victim is suffering from severe trauma.
In cases where the insurance company doesn’t come to a fair settlement for general damages, their attorney may decide to take the case to trial. A jury will almost always award a higher dollar amount than the insurance company offers. Sometimes, just the threat of going to trial pushes an insurance company into a better settlement offer.
A general damages award must be justified. For example, if the victim suffered minor injuries in a car accident and was released from care in a relatively short period of time, a jury may not award damages for pain and suffering. But, if the victim suffered burns or other major injuries that take several months to heal, they have a good shot at getting an award for pain and suffering. If the burns are so bad that they leave scarring and the victim needs psychological as well as physical care to recover, a jury may also award them extra compensation for emotional distress.
Other types of general damages can include:
- Loss of consortium: A victim who can no longer have a physical relationship with their spouse after an accident may receive damages for loss of consortium.
- Loss of companionship: If the victim’s injuries prevent them from doing things with their family that they would normally do, they may receive compensation for loss of companionship.
- Disfigurement: Victims may receive additional compensation if they are permanently disfigured from injuries they suffered in a car accident.
Family members of someone who was killed in a car crash may also be eligible to receive the above damages and others.
Economic damages that are easily assigned a dollar amount are referred to as “special damages” and may include:
- Loss of earnings: This is paid for any earnings a victim loses because of injuries sustained in the accident. These are generally to make up for the time the victim is out of work while they are recuperating.
- Loss of future earnings: If a victim’s injuries prevent them from going back to work, they may receive compensation for loss of future earnings. If they are able to go back to work at some point, but cannot do the job they previously did and have to work for a lower salary, they may get some compensation to make up for the difference. Loss of future wages could be a hefty amount if the victim sustained lifelong injuries in the crash.
- Property damage: This is paid out to replace or make repairs to any property that is damaged in the accident. This could be for a vehicle, landscaping, buildings, or other property damaged in the course of the accident.
- Medical expenses: Any medical expenses related to the accident may be covered through special damages.
- Future medical expenses: In cases where a victim’s injuries are very serious and they require extensive care, including psychological therapy, the victim may be awarded future medical expenses. These would also cover additional surgeries or doctors’ appointments that are related to injuries sustained in the accident.
Special damages, as well as general damages, are an attempt to make accident victims whole again. The attorneys at the Law Offices of George Salinas understand that no amount of money will make a person whole again if they’ve suffered permanent injuries or lost a loved one in a car accident, but compensation can go a long way toward making the financial aspect of the lives of victims or family members left behind easier and less stressful. If a case is filed on behalf of a person who died as a result of the accident—a wrongful death case—some of these expenses, such as loss of future earnings, might be significantly higher than for an injury case.
Punitive damages are only awarded when the court finds that the defendant’s behavior was malicious, grossly negligent, or reckless. For example, if someone is in an accident with a semi-trailer truck and the court learns that the truck driver’s company instructed the driver to “do what he has to do to get the load delivered on time,” the court could find that the company’s behavior was willful and intentional negligence. In this case, the plaintiff might recover punitive damages.
On top of making the victims whole, punitive damages are used as ‘punishment’ of the defendant—and, hopefully, a deterrent so that they don’t ever repeat the behavior that caused the plaintiff’s injuries again. But punitive damages are limited in Texas. When the court calculates punitive damages, it must also consider general and special damages.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer for More Information
If you were in a vehicle crash and need more information about filing your accident claim, call an attorney. Most automobile accident lawyers offer a free consultation and work on contingency fees, so you pay nothing upfront and nothing at all unless you recover compensation. Contact the legal team at The Law Offices of George Salinas online or call our office in San Antonio at (210) 944-8584 today.