When a personal injury attorney like Adam Kutner reviews the facts of an accident with a new client, two key issues that must be addressed are determining whether someone was at fault, or liable, in causing the accident to occur and whether the injured person suffer any damages because of it. Damages are the means by which courts attempt to compensate an injured party for the harm that person suffered.
There are two primary categories of damages that can be awarded in a personal injury case to compensate an injured person: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages reimburse the victim for the losses the person sustained. Punitive damages usually are reserved for those cases in which a judge wants to punish or send a message to the party responsible for causing the victim’s injuries.
There are two forms of compensatory damages: general damages and special damages. The purpose of awarding special damages is to compensate the injured party for such out-of-pocket losses as medical expenses, physical and occupational therapy expenses, lost wages and impairment of future earnings if a person cannot return to work.
General damages compensate the injured person for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium and inability to enjoy normal day-to-day activities and pursuits. Attorney Adam Kutner knows how difficult it can be to quantify pain during a trial. Pain and suffering are highly subjective and difficult to measure. Unlike lost earnings that can be proven with pay stubs and an employer’s records, judges and juries cannot see or feel the pain experienced by an injured person.
Compensation for emotional distress focuses on the psychological effects suffered by the victim of an accident. Fear, anxiety, loss of appetite and sleep disorders are common examples of emotional distress for which an injured person can be compensated.
Serious physical injuries suffered in an accident could prevent people from resuming activities such as exercise, hobbies, sports and other leisure-time activities. Judges and juries can award an injured person monetary damages if it is proven that the injuries from the accident are the cause of the limitations experienced by the injured party.
Loss of consortium damages relates to the relationship between accident victims and their spouses. At one time, loss of consortium focused on the inability of the injured person to resume normal sexual activities with a spouse due to the injuries suffered in an accident. Today, loss of consortium damages includes compensation for being unable to help a spouse with household chores, caring for children and other activities normally associated with spousal relationships.
Courts can award punitive damages in cases where the conduct of one of the parties is so reckless or egregious that a judge wants to send a message that will deter the wrongdoer and others from engaging in the same type of conduct. Punitive damages are not meant to compensate the injured party as much as they are intended to punish the wrongdoer.
There is much debate over the propriety of awarding punitive damages in personal injury cases. One result of this debate has been the enactment of laws to cap the amount of punitive damages in personal injury cases.