Potential Damages in Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Cases

Before filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim, you may have questions about the various types of damages you may be able to recover at time of trial. While no attorney can guarantee the value of any judgment, the following is a guide to the types of damages you may be entitled to recover, depending on the circumstances and facts of your case.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory, or actual, damages seek to compensate the plaintiff for losses related to their injury or death. There are no limits placed on the amount of compensatory damages a plaintiff can recover, since the purpose of these damages is to make the plaintiff whole for their losses. There are two types of compensatory damages; non-economic and economic damages:

Non-Economic Damages

Also known as general damages, non-economic damages cover those losses that cannot be quantified by an exact dollar amount. If awarded, the amount is based on what the jury finds reasonable. Non-economic damages may include:

  • Pain, suffering, and inconvenience: May include physical pain, mental suffering, inconvenience, mental suffering, emotional distress, injury to reputation, and humiliation.
  • Emotional distress: A person suffers emotional distress if a reasonable, ordinary person would not be able to handle the distress. It includes shock, anguish, fright, horror, nervousness and grief.
  • Loss of consortium: Compensates the spouse of an injured or deceased person for the loss of companionship and other damages suffered as a result of their loved one’s injury.

Economic Damages

Also known as special damages, economic damages cover losses that can be quantified by an exact dollar amount. If awarded, the amount recovered is based on actual loss, and the plaintiff has the burden of proving the value of such loss at trial. Economic damages may include:

  • Current medical expenses;
  • Future medical expenses, paid at their present day value;
  • Loss of earnings;
  • Loss of future earning capacity, paid at the present day value;
  • Property damage; and
  • Value of personal service, advice, or training.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for his negligent actions in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. In order to be awarded punitive damages, a plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with oppression, fraud or malice. Malice is defined as conduct that the defendant intends to cause injury or despicable conduct carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others. For example, it would be very unlikely that a plaintiff would be able to recover punitive damages for injuries sustained in a car accident caused by poor weather conditions, because there is no oppression, fraud or malice. Alternatively, punitive damages are more likely to be recoverable in a drunk driving accident where the defendant drinks alcohol to the point of intoxication, knowing from outset he or she will later operate a motor vehicle.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that punitive damages in excess of “a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages” – so punitive damages that exceed nine times the amount of compensatory damages awarded – are most likely excessive, as they violate the defendant’s due process rights. However, the court declined to issue a hard and fast rule. So whether an award of punitive damages that was more than nine times the amount of compensatory would be considered excessive depends on the circumstances of each case.

Wrongful Death Damages

In addition to the damages already discussed, plaintiffs in wrongful death cases may also be entitled to compensation for the following:

  • Loss of love, companionship, comfort, affection, society, solace or moral support, loss of enjoyment of sexual relations, and any loss of physical assistance in the operation or maintenance of the home.
  • Funeral expenses; and
  • Future financial contributions of the deceased, paid at their present day value

Our Attorneys Will Fight For You

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed, the attorneys at Appel Law Firm LLP can help. Our attorneys draw on a combined 60+ years’ experience handling personal injury and wrongful death claims that arise out of motor vehicle accidents, construction accidents, products liability, and more. We limit our caseload so that we can give our full attention to each case. We are conveniently located near the Walnut Creek BART station. Contact our office today at 888-527-0674, or complete our convenient web form, to schedule your appointment.


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