What Are “Damages”?
“Damages” is one of the most commonly misused, and misunderstood, legal terms, as most personal injury attorneys will attest. While it is true that one must prove damage to obtain damages, the two terms are not synonymous. One does not suffer “damages”; one collects them after reaching a settlement or winning a personal injury case. This is because “damages” refers not to an injury or its effects, but rather to the compensation the injured party obtains according to the specific losses and expenses incurred due to the injury.
Most damages awarded in personal injury cases are compensatory damages; that is, compensation for demonstrable losses and expenses stemming from an injury. Actual compensatory damages are awarded to cover expenses and monetary losses absorbed by the injured party, including medical bills, lost wages, rehabilitation expenses, and, in wrongful death cases, funereal costs. General compensatory damages are awarded to cover pain and suffering and other more abstract consequences of injury, including mental anguish, lost future wages, and, in wrongful death cases, loss of support and consortium.
One of the most important functions of personal injury lawyers is to identify the damages to which an injured party is entitled. This is because the injured party cannot return to the courts for further compensation related to an injury once a jury award or settlement has been obtained. For example, if a person was paralyzed due to a surgical error and settled his or her medical malpractice case out of court, he or she could not decide five years later that the compensation was insufficient to cover the expenses related to the injury. A qualified personal injury attorney will be able to project, with reasonable accuracy, future losses and expenses in addition to whatever current losses and expenses the injured party has incurred.
It should be noted that most damages in personal injury cases are obtained through settlements; however, it is important always to seek the services of an attorney with extensive in-court experience. The best attorneys are those who work toward a fair settlement but are unafraid to pursue a case to trial if it is in the best interest of their clients. Learn more about how Proner & Proner can help you.