When you suffer loss because of the wrongful actions of another person, you have a right to seek damages, a financial recovery to compensate you for economic and non-economic injuries.

If the intentional, reckless or careless actions of another person have caused you any type of financial loss, you can pursue reimbursement in a civil court. This compensation is known under the law as damages. You have a right to pursue recovery for all economic losses, such as wages, medical expenses, property damage, and any out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a result of your accident. For example, if you have to retrofit your home or vehicle to accommodate your injury, you may ask the at-fault party to reimburse you for those expenses.

In addition to economic damages, you can also sue for compensation for certain “non-economic” losses. These are more intangible injuries, such as the pain and suffering you experienced, any loss of companionship or consortium suffered because of your injury, and any mental distress, anxiety or depression resulting from the accident.

The Types of Damages Available

As a general rule, damages fall into two categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are further divided into two sub-groups: special damages and general damages.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are designed to do exactly as the name implies—compensate a personal injury victim for actual losses suffered. The goal, with compensatory damages, is to put the injured party back in the financial position they were in before the accident occurred.

Those compensatory damages that are tied to a specific cost or dollar amount are referred to as special damages. Special damages are customarily easy to determine, and include:

  • Lost wages or income, including future losses, calculated using the injured person’s income at the time of the accident.
  • Medical expenses, both past and future
  • Property damage, calculated using the fair market value of property at the time of the loss
  • Any other out-of-pocket expense, such as the cost of trips to a doctor, or expenses incurred to modify a home or vehicle to accommodate health issues

Compensatory damages also include general damages, which may not have an easily determined monetary value. General damages include remuneration for pain and suffering, as well as compensation for lost companionship or comfort. You can also seek a financial recovery for loss of consortium, the ability to have sexual relations with your spouse.

Punitive Damages

In limited circumstances, where a jury determines that the person causing the injury engaged in extremely reckless behavior, or that the defendant has demonstrated a pattern of careless conduct, a jury may award what are called punitive damages. Punitive damages are often justified as rehabilitative, providing an incentive for the defendant to change future behavior.

Mitigation of Damages

In any lawsuit to recover compensation for losses, the party seeking compensation must take all reasonable steps to minimize the total extent of the losses. In a personal injury action, an injured party must submit to any reasonable medical procedure, and must refrain from engaging in activity that would aggravate an injury. In a contract dispute, the party suffering loss must take reasonable steps to minimize that loss.

Enforcing a Judgment

Even though a jury has awarded damages, you must still take steps to enforce and collect a judgment. To learn more, see our page on enforcing a civil judgment.

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