Calculating Personal Injury Damages
After sustaining an injury or experiencing some loss, you may have legal options and a valid claim for a lawsuit.
When you file a lawsuit to hold an individual or entity accountable for their acts or omissions, you may also pursue financial recovery for your injuries and losses. This compensation is called “damages.”
When you file a lawsuit, many critical portions can help you build a strong case, giving you a greater chance of a successful outcome. Aside from determining what caused the incident and who is liable for your harm, you’ll also have to calculate the value of your case and find out how much you deserve.
Once you know how much your damages equate to, you’ll be able to seek financial recovery.
If you’re looking to recover monetarily from someone’s wrongdoing, a personal injury attorney is best suited to help you. Not only are they highly trained, but they also know what strategies to employ to help you reach the outcome you deserve.
After suffering injuries, do not hesitate to discuss your case with a qualified lawyer.
Continue reading to learn about the different types of damages, how to calculate them, and how a personal injury attorney can help you.
What Are Damages?
Under the legal definition, damages refer to money a plaintiff receives after a loss or injury caused by another’s wrongful act.
While civil lawsuits allow you to hold the liable party responsible, the main objective is to allow you to receive compensation.
When you’re hurt or suffer losses after another’s act or omission, you might face monetary challenges you otherwise wouldn’t have. Therefore, damages help to relieve the financial pressure.
What Type of Damages Are Available?
There are many different types of damages, and what may be available to you will depend on the type of lawsuit and the details of your case.
Generally, there are two types of compensatory damages: economic and non-economic. You may also qualify to receive punitive damages.
Compensatory damages, as the name suggests, compensate you for your injuries and losses resulting from the defendant’s wrongdoing.
Economic damages are those directly related to your case. These damages are usually easier to calculate and prove.
They can include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Rehabilitation costs
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning potential
- Property damage
Non-economic damages, while still stemming from your case, are commonly more difficult to quantify, as these losses are intangible.
They can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Permanent disability
- Loss of consortium
Punitive damages are not available for every case. California law only allows these damages when a defendant’s actions were oppressive, fraudulent, or malicious—beyond simple negligence. When you receive punitive damages, the court punishes the defendant for their actions and deters future actors.
Determining what type of damages you deserve and coming up with a calculation is one of the most challenging parts of bringing a claim. Fortunately, a personal injury lawyer has the skill and resources to decide how much your case is worth and fight diligently for the compensation you deserve.
Wrongful Death and Survival Claim Damages
Usually, damages provide financial relief for your injuries. If a victim has passed away,
the victim’s family can file a wrongful death claim or a survival action.
When a decedent’s family files a wrongful death lawsuit, they have the same goals as any other personal injury claim: to hold the responsible party accountable for causing their loved one’s death and collect financial compensation. However, the victim has passed, so damages will benefit the decedent’s survivors.
California law dictates the type of damages survivors may be eligible to receive for wrongful death claims over the loss of a loved one.
Economic damages for wrongful death claims can include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of gifts or benefits the survivors would have expected to receive from the decedent
- Value of household services decedent would have contributed
Non-economic damages for wrongful death claims often include:
- Loss of companionship, comfort, love, or care
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of guidance or training
A survival action compensates the decedent’s estate rather than the survivors. This type of lawsuit allows for the compensation a victim would have been entitled to if they had not passed.
Economic losses for survival actions are similar to those for regular personal injury claims, including:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Property damage
Previously, a decedent’s estate could only recover economic and punitive damages—non-economic damages were not available for survival actions. However, starting January 1, 2022, California law changed, and a decedent’s estate can now pursue non-economic damages for pre-death losses, including pain and suffering and disfigurement. Now, similar to other types of lawsuits, those filing survivor actions qualify to receive economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
Wrongful death and survival actions give the victim’s family a chance to hold the responsible party accountable and recover financially, even if the victim is no longer around.
How Are Lawsuit Damages Calculated?
Your damage amount depends on the type of case and damages the law allows.
The law does not provide an exact formula for calculating compensatory damages and punitive damages. Instead, certain factors typically help determine the value of your case.
Economic damages are the easiest to calculate because they come with solid proof. To decide how much you deserve in economic damages, your personal injury lawyer will look at documentation and receipts.
Evidence to prove economic damages can include:
- Medical bills
- Medical records
- Documentation of time missed at work and lost wages
- Property repair estimates
- Other receipts and bills
Non-economic damages are more challenging to calculate because there is often no solid proof like there is for economic damages.
For these types of damages, your lawyer can use:
- Medical records
- Doctors’ notes
- Psychological evaluations
- Your journal
- Your testimony and that of doctors, family, or friends
Reviewing this evidence and documentation can help your lawyer determine the value of your non-economic damages.
You may qualify to get punitive damages only if a judge feels it is appropriate or necessary. Generally, you cannot ask for punitive damages as you would seek compensatory damages.
To calculate the value of punitive damages you might be able to receive, the judge will look at certain details, including:
- The defendant’s actions that resulted in your losses
- Both the plaintiff and defendant’s insurance information
- Both the plaintiff and defendant’s incomes
- The value of legal costs you’ve incurred
These and other factors can help the judge decide whether they should grant punitive damages and how much would be fair.
How Are Personal Injury Claims Calculated?
Damages for personal injury claims are often calculated in the same manner as they are for other types of lawsuits. Your lawyer will examine evidence and documentation to determine the appropriate value of your case and use this information to pursue a fair settlement.
What Factors Determine the Value of a Case?
Determining the value of your case requires evidence and documentation, and certain factors can help your lawyer or a judge decipher how much your case is truly worth.
The factors that decide how much your case is worth include:
- The type and severity of your injuries
- Liability for your injuries and losses
- Whether you contributed to your accident
- How long it takes for you to recover from your injuries
- Whether you’re able to return to work or you must get another job
- Whether you’ve developed a disability or not
- Insurance coverage
Your lawyer will conduct a thorough investigation, finding answers to the questions required to determine the value of your case.
Are There Caps on How Much I Can Get in Damages for My Case?
In many states, there are statutory limits on how much a person can receive in economic and/or non-economic damages.
In California, there are no damage caps. Therefore, you can receive whatever amount is deemed fair and appropriate for your case.
The only exception is for medical malpractice cases. In a medical malpractice case, California law says a plaintiff can only receive $250,000 for non-economic damages.
Who Determines How Much Compensation I Deserve?
Your personal injury lawyer will review the details of your case along with certain factors to determine how much you’d qualify to receive in compensation. They will then seek compensation for your lawsuit damages.
If your case goes to court, after hearing both sides and their arguments, the judge or jury will decide whether you can receive financial recovery and the amount.
Does My Case Need to Go to Trial to Get Damages?
No. Your case does not need to go to court for you to receive damages for your losses.
In reality, only a small percentage (about 5 percent) of personal injury cases see the inside of a courtroom.
Most personal injury attorneys have a goal to resolve cases during negotiations, and this tactic is usually successful. About 95 percent of personal injury cases in the U.S. end with a settlement during pretrial negotiations.
Going to trial only happens when the opposing party is unwilling to negotiate, they offer an unfair settlement, or your personal injury lawyer feels it is the best plan to get you maximum compensation.
Whenever you go to trial, it is always a gamble, as a favorable outcome, and never guarantees damages. This is why your attorney will never take your case to court unless they feel there’s a good chance of a win.
It’s beneficial for both parties to avoid trial altogether. Trials can be extremely time-consuming and cost much more in legal fees. When a case settles outside of court, it’s a win-win for both sides, and insurance companies know this.
Whether your case ends in a successful settlement or you have to go to trial, you can still get financial recovery.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Pursue Damages for My Claim?
Yes. You may not be legally required to have a personal injury attorney handle your claim, but it would be highly unwise to represent yourself.
If you’ve never dealt with a lawsuit, you’re unlikely to be familiar with the pertinent laws and procedures you’ll need to know. This could result in an unfavorable outcome and low or no financial recovery.
Handling a claim involves:
- Investigating the details of the accident and resulting injuries
- Drafting and filing court documents
- Serving the opposing party with notice of the lawsuit
- Gathering relevant evidence and documentation
- Calculating your damages
- Participating in the discovery phase of a lawsuit
- Engaging in settlement negotiations
Additionally, there are time restrictions on almost every task related to your claim. The first, and one of the most important, is the statute of limitations for filing your claim. If you fail to file your lawsuit within the time allotted by law, you’ll forfeit your right to pursue damages for your losses.
Insurance companies love when individuals handle their own claims without legal assistance. Insurance companies’ biggest goal is to limit their liability and avoid paying victims what they deserve. If you’re representing yourself, they’ll prey on your lack of knowledge and confidence.
Representing yourself and handling your own claim will be time-consuming, confusing, frustrating, and likely to lead to an unsuccessful result.
Speak With a Qualified Attorney Today
If another’s wrongdoing has resulted in injuries or losses, you may have a valid claim and the opportunity to pursue damages.
A personal injury lawyer can answer your questions, address your concerns, and create an ideal legal strategy dependent on the details of your situation.
Don’t fight your legal battle alone. Contact a personal injury attorney to help you protect your rights and get the damages you deserve for your losses and injuries.