What are General Damages in Your Personal Injury Claim?
The issue of damages is at the center of nearly every personal injury claim. The term “damages” refers to money paid to an individual as compensation for a legally cognizable loss or injury. Three types of damages that you will often hear being awarded in a personal injury lawsuit are “general,” “special,” and “punitive.” The first two, general and special, are designed to compensate the plaintiff for actual losses sustained (e.g., medical bills, pain, and suffering). Punitive damages (also called exemplary damages in Colorado), by contrast, serve to punish the defendant for engaging in reckless behavior, as well as to deter others from behaving similarly.
The focus of this post is general damages – the purposes they serve, how they’re calculated, and the limits, or caps, that many states impose on how large they can be.
Apart from special damages, which are damages for economic losses like lost wages and medical bills, general damages exist to compensate personal injury plaintiffs for their non-economic losses. A non-economic loss is one that is difficult to calculate and yet one the law provides a remedy for. An example of a non-economic loss that is commonly encountered in personal injury lawsuits is pain and suffering – generally defined as the long-term physical discomfort and distress that many personal injury victims have to endure. Although hard to calculate in dollar terms, pain and suffering and other non-economic losses represent actual harms that plaintiffs should be compensated for. Other losses that can be compensated through general damages include emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non-economic damages.
Insurance companies and lawyers frequently consider formulas when attempting to calculate general damages in personal injury lawsuits. For example, damages for pain and suffering are sometimes calculated to be three to four times the size of a plaintiff’s medical bills. But there are many factors that can go into determine what a reasonable amount will be to compensate a plaintiff for general damages.
So-called “damage caps” have long been a hot-button issue in Colorado and many other states. Tort reform, a movement to reduce the amount of tort litigation in this country along with the size of civil damage awards, has successfully led to the codification of caps, or limits, on certain general damages. In Colorado, the Secretary of State publishes various certificates periodically updated to reflect the current limitations on civil judgments, as well as interest rates on appealed judgments. Those certificates can be found here.
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Whalen Hersh has established itself as a Colorado personal injury law firm that fights aggressively for compensation on behalf of its clients. If you’ve been wrongfully injured and would like to speak with a lawyer on our team about your legal options moving forward, we invite you to schedule a free consultation with us. To do so, you may either call Whalen Hersh at 720-307-2666 or send us a brief message using this form.