In personal injury law, “damages” refers to the sum of money awarded to compensate you for your injury or loss.

Personal injury damages usually fall into two categories: compensatory or punitive.

Compensatory Damages in Personal Injury Law

Compensatory damages cover the actual losses the injured person experienced. These losses can be physical or emotional. They may include loss of property or future potential, and can even pay for losses a person’s family experiences because of the injury.

Compensatory damages can include:

  • Medical expenses
    Medical expenses refer to everything from emergency care to lifelong medication costs. When someone fully recovers from their injuries, this number should award them everything needed to get to that point. For someone who will never fully recover, it would ideally pay for their ongoing medical care.
  • Pain and suffering
    Anyone who’s been in a serious accident knows the incredible stress and misery involved. The courts allow damages to include pain and suffering separately, since medical bills often only tell part of the story.
  • Loss of income
    In extreme cases, an injured person might lose their ability to work for many years. But even if they just miss a week and pay for it with their sick leave, that’s still a week of sick leave lost due to someone else’s mistake.
  • Loss of consortium 
    This refers to a spouse’s loss of companionship, like when an injured person can no longer have normal marital relations.
  • Loss of the pleasures of life
    An injury can take away a person’s ability to do the things they used to enjoy. Someone who loves playing golf on the weekend might be deeply affected by an injury that takes away his ability to swing a club.
  • Loss of property
    An injury can take a person’s car, house, or valuable equipment. In some cases, these losses may be included in a claim.

Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Law

If you’ve ever seen dramatic legal films like The Rainmaker or The Verdict, you’ve seen punitive damages and why they might occur.

Punitive damages punish a person or corporation for showing disregard or wrongdoing in preventing the injury in the first place. For example, if a drug company knew their new pill would cause heart failure, and they did nothing to warn people who might be at risk, they could receive high punitive damages.

Juries can be very forgiving, but they don’t like to see people in power ignore the health and safety of the public. Punitive damages aim to deter people from committing similar injuries in the future.

Figuring Out the Damages for Your Personal Injury Case

Based on your injuries and losses, a personal injury lawyer will try to negotiate a settlement that pleases everyone involved. Sometimes the case goes to trial, and a judge or jury then decides the damages.

There are entire law school courses on the complicated topic of damages and how to calculate them. In general, your medical expenses help determine the overall damages and how much each side might offer, and every case will look different from the next.

Your personal injury attorney should take all of your losses into consideration, work as well as possible with your timeline, and dedicate his or her efforts on getting you the compensation you need and deserve.


Thanks to our friends and contributors from Darrell Castle and Associates, PLLC, a Memphis-based bankruptcy and personal injury lawyer dedicated to helping people in the Mid-South get through hard times when they happen.

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