If you’ve been seriously injured in an incident that someone else is responsible for, you have a right to sue them for damages. Depending on the specifics of the incident and your case, you might seek several different types of damages.
Compensatory damages are damages that you suffer because of the incident in question and deserve to receive compensation for. For a simple example, assume another driver hits your vehicle and causes $1,000 in damage to the car. You deserve to be paid $1,000 by the other driver (or their insurance carrier) so that you can repair your vehicle.
Many different losses qualify as compensatory damages, and these losses can be categorized into two groups.
Pecuniary compensatory damages are those damages that are clearly quantifiable in monetary terms. You might need to do some arithmetic to quantify them, but anyone can tabulate them and arrive at the same objective cost. Some instances of pecuniary damages include:
- Medical bills, such as doctor, hospital, pharmacy, and ambulance bills
- Lost wages, such as paychecks lost from the time of the incident until you’re physically able to return to work
- Lost property value, such as a decrease in the fair-market value of any property that is damaged
Non-pecuniary compensatory damages are no less valid than pecuniary damages, but these are more difficult to quantify in financial terms. They have a cost, but the actual cost is somewhat subjective. Some instances of non-pecuniary damages include:
- Pain and suffering, which you might get if you physically suffered a lot
- Emotional distress, which you might get if you experienced anxiety, depression, or other emotional distress
- Lost earning capacity, which you might get if your future earning potential is decreased
- Relationship impairment, which you might get if your relationships are negatively effected
- Life impairment, which you might get if your quality of life is negatively effected
Because these damages aren’t listed in black-and-white terms on bills and paychecks, they must be determined via other methods. A lawyer can help you determine what a just amount of non-pecuniary damages is based on your particular situation and set precedents.
Punitive damages aren’t intended to provide the claimant with an award as much as they’re to punish the defendant. The goal with these damages is to make the defendant literally pay for what they did and discourage similar future behavior (by either the defendant or someone else who wants to do the same thing).
Many government agencies seek punitive damages when they bring cases against companies and individuals for gross misdeeds. The damages are often in the form of fines.
Punitive damages are often in major cases that government agencies and nonprofit regulators bring, but individuals might also seek them. A lawyer who specializes in personal injury law can help you determine whether punitive damages are appropriate in your case.
Nominal damages are more symbolic than practical, although their symbolism has utilitarian purposes at times. These damages are usually just a few dollars, and often as little as $1.
Someone might seek these damages for a couple of reasons. First, claimants have to seek something when they file a lawsuit. If the main goal of a civil lawsuit isn’t money but rather to make a point, the claimant might seek nominal damages. Second, claimants might leverage a win for nominal damages to seek punitive damages in another lawsuit.
Nominal damages are more common in other types of civil lawsuits, but they’re technically an option when filing a personal injury suit. If nominal damages make sense for your case, an attorney will let you know.
For help determining what damages to seek in a personal injury lawsuit, contact St Martin & Bourque Attorneys at Law.