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Personal injury


There are generally two types of damages (also known as legal remedies) available for personal injury claims—compensatory damages and punitive/exemplary damages.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are designed to compensate or pay the injured claimant or plaintiff for losses and injuries suffered as a result of the accident. Compensatory damages are designed to make the claimant or plaintiff “whole” again—to put them in the financial position they were in before the accident (or come as close as possible).

Within compensatory damages, there are two types of damages—economic damages and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages are damages that cost the claimant or plaintiff money—sometimes referred to as out-of-pocket damages. These damages in personal injury claims include:

• Medical expenses—past, present, and future medical care and treatments related to the accident—including hospital bills, doctors’ bills for treatment, pharmacy bills for medications, rehabilitation and therapy sessions and treatments.

• Lost wages or income—compensation for wages or income the injured claimant or plaintiff was not able to earn due to the accident (past lost wages)—and wages and income the injured claimant or plaintiff will not be able to earn in the future as a result of the accident (future lost wages or income and lost earning capacity).

• Property loss—compensation for property that was lost or damaged as a result of the accident or other incident—common examples include losses related to damaged motor vehicles or damaged buildings or structures such as a claimant or plaintiff’s home damaged in a fire, as well as clothing and other personal property, when the claimant or plaintiff suffered personal injuries in the form of burns and smoke inhalation, for example.

• Legal fees and costs—including attorney fees, fees for filing a lawsuit, fees related to taking depositions (testimony under oath) in the lawsuit, fees for travel necessary for the plaintiff’s prosecution of the lawsuit (to interview witnesses or take depositions, for example).

Compensatory damages that are noneconomic damages (not out-of-pocket losses) include:

• Pain and suffering—compensation for serious physical discomfort caused by the accident—in the past, present, and future.

• Mental and emotional distress—compensation for the psychological trauma or damage caused by the accident or other incident, such as anxiety, fear, depression, and loss of sleep.

• Loss of enjoyment—compensation for the lost enjoyment an injured claimant or plaintiff would have from engaging in work, recreation, athletics, travel, reading, writing, or other activities that are no longer possible due to the accident.

• Physical impairment, disfigurement, or loss of use—compensation for paralysis, brain damage, lost or impaired limbs (arms, legs, hands, fingers, toes), including a limp.

• Loss of consortium—loss of consortium is a claim for noneconomic damages that is sometimes made in personal injury and wrongful death claims or lawsuits and is based on the lost or damaged relationship between married persons or persons living together in an intimate or domestic relationship—historically referred to as marital services. The nature of the loss for which the claimant or plaintiff seeks loss of consortium damages includes lost companionship, care and affection, sexual relations, household contributions, inability to have children, and inability to engage in activities that the couple previously enjoyed, such as recreational activities and travel. A defendant who is alleged to be responsible for a personal injury or wrongful death that includes loss of consortium damages may seek to defend against that particular claim of damages by discovering facts and information that might establish an abusive or strained relationship that was not as valuable or worthy of compensation as the plaintiff claims. Laws vary from state to state and many states have replaced the common law rule of consortium that previously appeared in the state’s court opinions or case law with statutes enacted by the state legislature.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages (also known as “punitives”) are intended to punish the person or entity who caused an accident or other incident that resulted in personal injuries, for example. Punitive damages are also designed to deter or discourage especially reckless or dangerous behavior (such as driving while intoxicated) that is worse than simply being negligent or careless.

Punitive damages are not classified as economic or noneconomic damages because they are not intended to compensate the injured claimant or plaintiff. Instead, punitive damages are a separate and distinct type of damages.

Laws and Terminology May Vary

Laws regarding the recovery of damages for personal injuries (sometimes referred to as legal remedies) may vary from state to state—as do the terms used to describe the different types of damages or remedies. These laws may be located in a state’s statutes or in its court opinions.

In Texas, personal injury claims allow for both compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages aim to make the injured party whole again and are divided into economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages cover quantifiable financial losses such as medical expenses, lost wages, property loss, and legal fees. Noneconomic damages compensate for intangible losses like pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, loss of enjoyment, physical impairment, disfigurement, and loss of consortium. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are not meant to compensate the injured party but to punish the wrongdoer for particularly reckless or dangerous behavior and to deter similar conduct in the future. Texas law caps punitive damages at the greater of $200,000 or two times the amount of economic damages plus an amount equal to any noneconomic damages found by the jury, not to exceed $750,000. It's important to note that the specifics of these damages and the terminology used can vary by state, and Texas may have specific statutes and case law governing the awarding of these damages.

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