If you were involved in a motor vehicle collision due to someone else’s negligence, you may be able to recover “damages” (or compensation) for your losses. Damages include economic damages (such as medical expenses and lost income), non-economic damages (for “pain and suffering”) and, in rare cases, punitive damages (for DUIs, hit-and-runs, or repeat offenders).
Knowing what is covered in each category and the value of your damages can help you make an informed decision about whether to pursue a case. Having this knowledge beforehand can also help build your case by collecting important information early in the process. Listed below are the basic elements of damages for personal injury.
“Economic” means that they are damages you can put a price on, i.e. there is an economic basis for the amount you’re seeking. There are several components of economic damages that may be recovered following a motor vehicle collision, including:
The value of economic damages are established by collecting medical bills and records, tax returns, and employment records.
If collision has left you with injuries or a chronic condition that requires future medical treatment, economic damages can cover that if you can prove that you will need future treatment. It can cover the cost of future surgeries, physical or occupational therapy, and any follow-up visits you might have with a doctor.
Compensation for future lost earnings will take into account both missed work as well as any diminished earning capacity as a result of the accident. Income difference can be factored into your compensation if the accident left you with a lower-paying job.
“Non-economic” means damages you cannot put a price on. These include physical and emotional pain and suffering, as well as loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience, loss of ability to labor, and loss of consortium (meaning deprivation of the benefits of a family relationship).
Recovery for non-economic damages depends on the severity of the collision. While this category is more difficult to quantify than economic damages, it can be a significant component of your compensation.
In Georgia, non-economic damages like “pain and suffering,” are determined by “the enlightened conscience of the jury.” Pre-suit, we tend to think of it as a factor of the medical expenses (since that is how insurance adjusters look at it). Generally 2-3x medical expenses is a typical range we see for pain and suffering damages. Once you file a lawsuit, however, we usually argue that pain and suffering should be judged on a per day basis that you have to live with your pain, such as $10-50/per day depending on the severity of your injuries. Pain and suffering is established with testimony concerning the impact of the collision on your daily life, including your relationships.
Punitive damages are a separate category of damages that will be determined by a jury in a separate phase of the trial. The purpose of punitive damages, also referred to as “exemplary damages,” is not meant to compensate the plaintiff/victim but to punish the defendant/at-fault driver for his/her reckless conduct. According to Georgia law, punitive damages are only awarded if an attorney can prove that the defendant showed “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression” or “conscious indifference to consequences.” In car wreck cases, that usually means that the at-fault driver was guilty of a DUI or hit-and-run or that the at-fault driver is a notoriously unsafe driver with a long history of causing wrecks.
As a result of tort reform, Georgia caps the amount of punitive damages recoverable at $250,000. The only exception (when there is no cap on what can be recovered) is if the defendant acted under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Georgia law also requires that 75% of any punitive damage award be paid to the state treasury, rather than the plaintiff.
If you or a loved one were injured in a car wreck, you may be entitled to the types of compensation discussed above for your injuries. At Schneider Law, P.C., we have experience helping our clients maximize their recovery following a motor vehicle collision. To make an appointment with personal injury lawyer Bethany Schneider, call (404) 800-3060 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.