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Determining Damages in a Personal Injury Claim

“Damages” is the legal term referring to the monetary compensation that a victim in a personal injury lawsuit seeks from the alleged at-fault party (the defendant). Like the other propositions the victim must prove in order to prevail in his or her case, the victim (or plaintiff) is required to prove the existence and amount of damages that he or she suffered and is requesting. A victim who presents a winning case but fails to present convincing evidence on damages may walk away with nothing. A plaintiff must prove damages by a preponderance of the evidence.

Determining damages in some personal injury cases is straightforward while in others the process can be more complicated and involve estimations. Where a plaintiff obtains assistance from a California personal injury attorney, he or she is better equipped to not only more accurately estimate the plaintiff’s actual damages but is more likely to obtain a greater proportion of those damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are usually determined by looking for a receipt, a bill, or other objective and official documentation that clearly indicates the loss experienced or expense incurred by the

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plaintiff. For example, medical expenses are a type of economic damages and would be established by looking at the plaintiff’s medical bills. If the plaintiff was expected to have ongoing treatment needs, estimates of the cost of surgeries and/or prescription medications could be obtained from the care provider or pharmacy and used to establish those expenses. Lost wages are also an example of economic damages and are routinely established by referencing the plaintiff’s employer’s attendance records and the plaintiff’s pay stubs.

Economic damages – especially for expenses that have already been incurred – are often the easiest type of damages to establish. It is important, however, for plaintiffs to keep accurate records of the treatment and medical expenses they incur, the days they missed from work, and the other expenses related to their injury they experience.

Noneconomic Damages

Noneconomic damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for losses that are difficult to quantify. “Pain and suffering” or “mental anguish” are common examples of noneconomic damages that are sought in personal injury cases. There is no one “right” way to calculate these damages and the amount arrived at by a plaintiff and his or her attorney can vary widely from one case to another. Rather than proving these losses through objective documentation, plaintiffs and their attorneys attempt to get the judge or jury to “feel” the loss that the plaintiff experienced on an emotional level through the use of concrete stories and experiences. For example, a personal injury attorney may argue for pain and suffering on behalf of a client who was in the hospital for three weeks by describing the agony of not being able to move out of bed without assistance, of not being able to see his or her children each day, and of being unable to hug his or her spouse. With few exceptions (like in medical malpractice cases), the plaintiff can request as much noneconomic damages as he or she feels he or she can prove. It is common for juries or judges to give a plaintiff less noneconomic damages than the plaintiff initially asks for.

Depending on the facts of your case, there may be other types of damages available that can be pursued in your case. A personal injury lawyer can help you understand what these other damages may be and how they may be quantified.

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