Personal injury lawyers provide a wide variety of services for their clients, helping to gather evidence, prove injury, file accident injury claims and (if necessary) plead the case in court. But the majority of personal injury lawsuits in the U.S. have to do with car accidents, and many of the questions people ask auto injury attorneys have to do with car accident settlements — and more specifically, how car accident compensation is calculated. Laws vary from state to state, so it’s impossible to give a specific and also universally accurate number. But there are some basic terms you can learn to make sense of the process. There are four types of damages you’ll want to understand:
- Compensatory Damages
Compensatory damages, as their name implies, are intended to compensate the victim for harm caused by the negligent party. In the case of car accidents, these are generally paid by the at-fault driver’s insurance company. In most states, a victim can receive a scaled settlement even if he or she was partially at fault for the accident, though in some places the victim cannot have contributed to the accident at all in order to claim damages.
- Economic Damages
Economic damages, also called special damages, are a subset of compensatory damages. They commonly include medical expenses, property damage or loss of earnings (if, for example, the victim cannot work for six months because he or she is recovering from the accident).
- Non-Economic Damages
Also a subset of compensatory damages, non-economic damages (also called general damages) address issues such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. A victim who suffers from burning, scarring, loss of limbs, impaired movement, loss of sexual function, extended recovery or similar problems may be entitled to collect these types of damages. However, there’s no set method for calculating the monetary value of these factors, which is why auto injury attorneys often negotiate for better settlements.
- Punitive Damages
As opposed to compensatory damages, which are often negotiated through private lawyers or arbitration, punitive damages are imposed on a defendant by the court. They’re intended not to compensate the victim, but rather to punish or reform the defendant. These damages generally only come into play when the defendant showed malice or was especially negligent in some behavior that caused the accident. For example, drunk driving (which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, results in 1.4 million arrests per year) might lead to punitive damages in a civil case, on top of compensatory damages and without affecting fines or penalties as part of a criminal case.
What other questions would you like to ask auto injury attorneys? Discuss in the comments.