If you are hurt in an accident that is someone else’s fault, the injuries you suffer may entitle you to compensatory damages, also known as actual damages. These are monetary awards intended to reimburse you for your financial losses and make you whole again in regard to your physical and emotional injuries. Since the responsible party cannot actually undo the incident and your resulting injuries, the best they can do is pay you for them.


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The value of each injury depends on specific factors in your case. Additionally, you may not be entitled to every type of compensatory damage. To learn more about the types of damages you can seek and their value, speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Understanding the types of compensatory damages

When you first learn about compensatory damages, you may hear about some broad categories. A lot of online legal advice discusses special versus general damages or economic versus non-economic damages. Special and economic damages are intended to cover your financial losses. General and non-economic damages put a monetary value on your physical and psychological injuries.

Discussing compensatory damages in terms of broad categories isn’t especially useful, though. It bogs the issue down in legalese instead of clearly identifying compensation you are entitled to when filing a personal injury claim. Some common, specific types of compensatory damages include:

1. Current and future medical expenses

You are entitled to ask for compensation for all medical expenses resulting from your injuries. If you are suffering from an injury that will require future treatments or medical devices, you can also ask for compensation for these. Your lawyer will carefully document your medical expenses and related costs, such as travel, at-home medical equipment, at-home care, physical therapy, home renovations, and more. If you will need future medical care, your attorney may hire an expert to testify regarding these costs.

2. Lost wages

An accident may cause you to exhaust your paid time off and force you to take periods of unpaid leave at work. You can ask to be compensated for the loss of sick and vacation days and for all lost income during unpaid absences. If you own your own business or work as an independent contractor, you will miss out on new clients and payments. To fight for these damages, your lawyer may hire an economic expert to testify regarding your past and future lost compensation. According to The Expert Institute, an economic expert will also review your Social Security Earnings Records, income tax records, documentation regarding your retirement savings, and if applicable, your business records to determine lost income.

3. Reduced earning capacity

If you now earn less because of your injuries, you can seek compensation for the difference between your current and previous earning potential. This is another way in which an economic expert can help. You cannot simply pull a number from a hat. To prove how much you earned before versus how much you are likely to earn in the future, you need data. An economic expert will provide valid information and supporting testimony to prove your reduced earning capacity in court. You may also require the testimony of a vocational rehabilitation expert who can testify regarding your potential earnings with your new limitations.

4. Disfigurement or disability

If your injuries resulted in a long-term or permanent disfigurement or disability, you are entitled to remuneration for this. There are numerous ways to place a value on a specific disfigurement or disability. You should speak with a personal injury lawyer about the customary method in your state or locality.

When it comes to placing value on a client’s long-term disability at trial, the damages can add up. “In addition to past and current medical bills and pain and suffering, you would seek future medical bills and future pain and suffering [compensation] for the anticipated lifetime,” says California personal injury attorney Eric Dubin of Dubin Law Firm. “For example, if a client was 30 years old, in California the jury would allow for another 55 years of compensation. Sometimes, in front of a jury, I’ll equate that to a job. I would say, ‘who would work in pain for another $20,000 a year?’ and then I’d ask for a raise, because that would kick in after 20 years. When you start doing numbers for even to $20-50,000 a year, you start getting into some really high figures over the course of a lifetime.”

5. Physical pain

You can ask for compensation for the physical pain you suffer following an accident. It can be difficult to document your physical pain, however, your lawyer will guide you in doing so. You may prove your physical pain partly through medical records, specifically those in regard to treating your pain. You may also testify regarding practical changes and limitations in your life due to the pain.

6. Emotional suffering

After you are hurt in an accident, you may psychologically suffer a great deal, including from grief, anger, anxiety, and depression. You are entitled to compensation for this mental pain and distress. However, proving your emotional suffering can be difficult. One way to do so is to seek mental health care and to have your provider testify regarding your diagnosis and care. Another method is hiring an expert witness.

“The thing about emotional injuries is that they’re very subjective,” Dubin says. “A lot of times the damages you win will really depend on the credibility of [the plaintiff]. Details are always important. The more vivid a picture you can paint for the jury, the more they’ll give you. If you’re dealing with primarily emotional injuries, you’re going to want a really good expert to verify that those symptoms are directly related to the liability. You can bet the defense is going to argue that any emotional instability was either preexisting or unrelated to the event that they’re being held accountable for.”

In certain cases, Dubin says, proving emotional suffering will be easier than others—and might translate into more significant compensation. “The place where you’ll find really big awards for emotional damages are wrongful-death cases. You can’t get pain and suffering in wrongful death, but what you get is the loss of the love of a parent or a child, and that lost love translates into emotional pain, which California allows pretty major compensation for.”

7. Loss of enjoyment of life

If your injuries make it impossible for you to participate in and enjoy life as you once did, such as by participating in your chosen work and hobbies, then you can seek compensation for this loss. To prove all or some non-economic damages, attorneys utilize “day in the life” videos. This video can be used to demonstrate your limited capabilities and the difficulties you face in everyday activities. However, the admissibility of day in the life videos depends on a number of factors, including judicial discretion. Your attorney may have to fight for you to be able to utilize this type of evidence in your case.

To learn more about compensatory damages, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today.