A common question the plaintiff may have is how much their injury is worth. Damages are intended to represent the full monetary value of the injury, and compensate the injured person. These can cover a wide range of sources, some of which are easy to quantify, while others are more abstract. Medical treatment is one of the most common forms of damages sought in cases. Since medical treatment is so concrete, it is easy to put a dollar value on it. Plaintiffs would likely be entitled to a reimbursement of medical care they have already received, as well as an estimated value of any future care they will need as a result of the accident. When someone is injured, they may be forced to take time off work to heal, which can result in lost income. The amount of this lost income is part of damages. Additionally, if the injury decreases a person’s ability to earn money in the future, this loss may also be included in damages. This is referred to as a “loss of earning capacity”. While not related to an injury, property loss as a result of the accident can also be included in damages. This is represented by the fair market value of anything destroyed, or the cost of repairs.
There are also forms of damages which have a less concrete monetary value. In these instances, the fair amount of damages is decided either in settlement negotiations by the two parties, or by a judge and jury. Pain and suffering is a common form of ambiguous damages that can be awarded. This can refer to both physical and mental pain that is a direct cause of the injury. For example, if someone breaks their leg as a result of a car accident, they would be entitled to the cost of their medical treatment as well as whatever monetary value is placed on the pain they felt. Damages for emotional distress can also be included in part of pain and suffering, though some states consider it a separate category. This is typically seen in the most serious cases, and considers the psychological effect on the injured person. For example, if their injury causes pain that significantly prevents them from sleeping, the plaintiff may be entitled to damages for the diminished mental state the sleep loss causes. Like physical pain, emotional issues can be difficult to quantify and place a monetary value on.
A third kind of damages are punitive damages. These are damages above and beyond what the plaintiff is entitled to as compensation. They are intended to punish the defendant in cases where the accident was a result of severe carelessness, beyond the usual level. They are also meant to act as an additional deterrent to help prevent the same kind of negligence in the future.
There are some instances in which a plaintiff may be awarded a lower amount of damages than their full compensation would be. One case of this would be comparative negligence. In this system, fault for the accident can be allocated as a percent between the two parties. For example, if someone ran a red light and was hit by a speeding car in the intersection, the driver that was hit may sue the other driver. However, both of them were driving unsafely, meaning the accident was not 100% either person’s fault. Carelessness on the part of the plaintiff will likely reduce the amount of damages they are awarded. Another case where a plaintiff may not be entitled to full compensation is in a case where they fail to care for their injuries. If someone does not take reasonable action to receive medical care, and thereby makes their injuries worse, this could affect the amount of damages they are entitled to. Finally, states establish a statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit in personal injury cases. In Minnesota, you have two years after discovering the injury to file a suit. If you have not filed within this time limit, you would no longer be entitled to any damages.
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