Understanding Damages in Personal Injury Cases

1. What is a personal injury?

Answer: A personal injury is an injury to a person caused intentionally or by the negligence of another.

2. What types of personal injury cases are there?

Answer: There are many types of personal injury cases, including cases involving injuries sustained in automobile accidents, injuries sustained as a result of a landowner (called premises liability), injuries sustained as a result of a faulty, defective, or dangerous product (call products liability), injuries sustained as a result of medical mistakes or errors (called medical malpractice or medical negligence), injuries sustained as a result of derogatory statements, either written and spoken (called defamation), injuries sustained as a result of injuries at work (called worker’s compensation), and injuries caused by fights or assaults (called assault and battery).

Anytime you are injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, you have suffered a personal injury and you could potentially hold the negligent person liable for your injury.

3. What damages are recoverable in personal injury cases?

Answer: In most personal injury cases, you can recover monetary damages for medical bills, past and future physical pain and suffering, past and future mental or emotional pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity, disability, lost capacity for the enjoyment of life, and disfigurement.

4. What medical bills can I recover?

Answer: People injured by the negligence of another can recover the reasonable medical bills necessarily incurred as a result of the incident.   To the extent that the injuries likely require on-going medical bills in the future, those future medical expenses can also be recovered.

5. What is physical pain and suffering?

Answer: Pain and suffering is physical discomfort caused by an injury.

6. What is mental or emotional pain and suffering?

Answer: Mental or emotion pain and suffering includes anguish, distress, fear, humiliation, grief, shame, or worry.

7. What is disfigurement?

Answer: Disfigurement is a permanent injury that impairs a person’s appearance. This includes permanent scars and lost limbs.

8. What is loss of enjoyment of life?

Answer: Lost capacity for the enjoyment of life compensates the injured person for limitations put on the ability to enjoy the pleasures of life as a result of an injury. This includes the inability to engage in activities you once enjoyed.

9. What is disability?

Answer: Disability is the loss of your ability to do the same physical things that you did before you were injured.

10. What is loss of earning capacity?

Answer: Loss of earning capacity is the loss of your ability to work and earn money. It may be an amount equal to your lost wages as a result of the injuries you received in the incident. If you have suffered permanent injuries that affect your ability to work and earn money, it includes those monies you are likely to lose in the future because of your injuries.

The reason loss of earning capacity may exceed lost wages is because sometimes it can be shown that a person is earning a particular wage only temporarily and will be progressing up the income ladder. For example, if a college student is injured and can never work again, it would be unfair to say that the student’s earning capacity is what he or she was making at a part-time job at McDonald’s. Instead, expert witnesses are employed to demonstrate the likely earnings of the student over his or her work-life expectancy if the injury had not occurred.

11. I know that it can take some time for cases to get settled or go to trial. Can I recover interest on my lost income, etc.?

Answer: If a trial is necessary, you win at trial, and the defendant appeals you can recover interest while the appeal is underway.  You can also recover interest if the defendant delays in paying you what you are owed. This is called post-judgment interest. The interest rate under current law is 10% per year.

However, under current Tennessee law, you cannot recover pre-judgment interest (interest on the amount of your losses between the time you incurred them and the time of settlement or trial) in Tennessee personal injury and wrongful death cases.

12. I believe that I have a personal injury claim. What should I do?

Answer: You should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. It is important that evidence be gathered to determine the validity of the claim. The insurance company for the person or company that caused the death will be working hard to gather that evidence, and you should have a lawyer doing the same.

© 2010, The Law Offices of John Day, P.C.