If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s carelessness and are considering filing a lawsuit, you’re probably asking yourself: “How much is my case worth?”
As explained below, there are two basic types of damages for which injury victims can be awarded monetary compensation – “compensatory damages” and “punitive damages” – and two potential limitations on these damages.
Types of Compensation
1. “Compensatory” damages. Compensatory damages are, as its name implies, damages that compensate you for your injuries and related financial loss. Depending on the nature and extent of your injuries, you may be entitled to recover the following compensatory damages:
- Medical bills. You are entitled to recover the total amount of your medical bills incurred as a result of your injuries. You are also entitled to recover the cost of future medical care, if any, you require as a result of your injuries.
- Lost wages. If you are unable to work because of your injuries, you are entitled to recover your current and future lost wages.
- Pain and suffering. You are entitled to recover damages to compensate you for your physical discomfort and distress, as well as your mental and emotional trauma. In some states, such as Wisconsin, there are limits on the amount you may recover for pain and suffering.
- Loss of normal life. If your injuries prevent you from enjoying the pleasurable aspects of life, such as hobbies, exercise, and the like, you may recover damages for what is referred to as “loss of normal life.”
- Other damages. In addition to the common categories of compensatory damages listed above, other damages may be applicable depending on the nature of your injuries. These include loss of consortium, disfigurement, increased risk of future harm, shortened life expectancy, and future care-taking expenses.
2. “Punitive” (or punishment) damages. Punitive damages refer to a sum of money, often very significant, that goes above and beyond compensating you for your injuries. Punitive damages are intended to punish the guilty party for extremely reckless or intentional behavior. Examples include a car company that leaves faulty brakes in a car model rather than issuing a recall, or a doctor that intentionally performs an unnecessary surgery. Punitive damages are reserved for only the most extreme cases of reprehensible conduct. An attorney will be able to tell you if your case may qualify for punitive damages.
Potential Limitations on the Extent of Your Monetary Recovery
There are two major factors that can affect the extent (maximum or partial) of your monetary recovery:
1. Who is at fault for your injuries? The extent of your monetary compensation will depend, in part, on who is at fault for your injuries. If someone else is entirely at fault, then you are entitled to receive all of your compensatory damages. If you are entirely at fault, then you are not entitled to recover any compensatory damages.
But what happens if you are partially at fault and someone else is partially at fault for your injuries? That depends on the law in the state where your injuries occurred. Illinois is a “comparative negligence” jurisdiction, which means that a judge or jury will examine the facts of your case and assess each party’s relative fault. As long as you are no more than 50% at fault for your injuries, you are entitled to recover compensatory damages. Your damages will, however, be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if you were awarded $1 million in damages, but were found to be 30% at fault for your injuries, then your damages would be reduced by 30%, or $300,000, and your total recovery would be $700,000.
2. Did you attempt to “mitigate” your damages? When you’ve been injured because of someone else’s carelessness, you have an obligation to “mitigate” your damages, which means you must avoid aggravating your injuries. Generally, an injured party must attempt to minimize his or her injuries by seeking prompt medical attention and following through with the medical provider’s instructions.
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