One benefit of understanding the different types of damages in personal injury cases is that it can help you understand your state's damage caps. Not all states cap damages in personal injury cases, but many do. And like most laws, these laws are written in legal language involving specific terminology. Decoding this terminology can help you understand the limits of your own personal injury case.
Compensatory damages is an overarching term for all the damages involved in a personal injury case. Another way to think of it is the compensation that a plaintiff could receive for being injured. These damages are divided into economic damages and non-economic damages.
Sometimes called "special damages," economic damages refers to money awarded for specific, quantifiable costs. Medical expenses fall under this category; they can easily be quantified through the medical bills themselves. Property damage and lost wages are two other very common areas of economic compensation. Economic damages are calculated based on existing bills or exact expected future costs.
Also known as "general damages," this category covers costs that are less easily quantifiable. Pain and suffering is the form of non-economic damages that most people are familiar with. Mental and emotional distress, physical disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life all fall under non-economic damages. This form of compensation requires a jury to put a dollar value on a more subjective form of damage, and between economic and non-economic damages, it is the more likely form of damage to be capped.
Punitive damages are damages that are awarded as punishment and as a deterrent to the defendant acting in the same way in the future. Some states cap these damages; other states have eliminated them completely. If you live in a state where they are allowed, it's still not a guarantee that they are relevant to your case. Generally, they are only sought in cases of severe negligence – the jury must see the defendant's actions as exceptionally wrong to consider punishing them with punitive damages.
Damage caps almost never affect economic damages, but the rules surrounding non-economic and punitive damages can be more complicated. Some states limit certain types of damages; others limit all non-economic damages but only in certain types of cases (such as medical malpractice). This means that you may have a very different case depending on which state you live in.
For more information, contact Burke Schultz Harman & Jenkinson Attorneys at Law or a similar firm.