Types of Compensation in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If you have been injured through the negligence of another, you may be entitled to recover damages after filing a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury lawsuits can be filed following an automobile accident, a case of medical malpractice, a dog bite, a slip and fall or other accident on public or private property or an assault, battery, or other intentional tort. Personal injury lawsuits can also be filed when defamation of character has occurred, damaging a person’s reputation from untrue statements. Filing a personal injury case can be complex, particularly if you are filing a medical malpractice or dangerous drug or medical device case. Most all personal injury lawsuits benefit greatly from the assistance of a knowledgeable Chester County personal injury attorney.
Personal injury cases are somewhat different from criminal cases, in that the prosecuting attorney has the burden of proof in a criminal case, while in a personal injury case the plaintiff has the burden of proof. Unlike a criminal case, which is proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a civil case is proven by “the preponderance of evidence.” In order to be awarded compensation in a personal injury case, the plaintiff in the case must prove the defendant breached a legal responsibility known as the duty of care and that this breach resulted in physical, emotional, and/or financial harm.
Compensation, or damages, in a personal injury case are divided into different categories, although these categories may overlap. As an example, sometimes compensatory damages could also qualify as economic damages. The types of compensation, or damages, include:
- Economic or actual damages,
- Non-economic damages,
- Compensatory damages, and
- Punitive damages.
Economic damages are meant to compensate a person for specific monetary losses such as lost wages, the costs associated with a funeral in a wrongful death, the costs necessary to replace or repair damaged personal property, and medical bills. If you have been involved in a car accident, which was the fault of the other driver, you might collect economic damages in the form of lost wages for the time you were unable to work, medical expenses for your injuries, and personal property damages for the costs of repairing your car.
Medical expenses generally cover doctor bills, hospital bills, prescription medications, rehabilitative therapies, any medical tests or treatments and, in some cases, the costs associated with getting to and from the doctor or hospital. If a plaintiff’s health insurance was paying some or all of the bills prior to a settlement or damage award, then the plaintiff may be required to turn over some of his or her settlement to the insurer. If the plaintiff is permanently unable to work due to the injury, then the wages he or she would have made during the course of a lifetime may be paid by the defendant.
Non-Economic damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for losses which have had a negative effect on his or her life, yet may be hard to put an exact dollar figure on. Such things as emotional distress, pain and suffering, loss of companionship and loss of the marital relationship (consortium) all fall under non-economic damages. If you were in a car accident which has left you afraid to get into a car again, suffering severe, chronic pain, and you are so depressed you are unable to have a relationship with your spouse or your children, you might qualify for all of these non-economic damages.
Because juries tend to award large settlements for pain and suffering, particularly with a severe injury, insurance companies are more likely to settle cases where pain and suffering is claimed. During settlement of a personal injury case, a technique known as a pain multiplier is often used by the insurance company in order to place a specific financial number on the pain and suffering. While this formula varies, it can involve multiplying the total of all actual financial losses by a specific number, usually be 1½ and 5. Emotional distress is generally proven through the use of psychiatric records or a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Compensatory damages are awarded only for the purposes of compensating the victim and can include both economic and non-economic damages, while punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant as well as deter others from similar conduct. Punitive damages are only awarded when the behavior of the defendant was particularly malicious or reckless. Punitive damages are only awarded when it is clear the defendant engaged in willful, wanton misconduct.
Punitive damages may be awarded in a case of aggravated battery, sexual assault, or any type of fraudulent behavior which leads to widespread financial harm. High-profile dangerous drug or defective medical device cases may award punitive damages when it is clear the manufacturer knew—or should have known of the dangers, yet continued to market the product.
Does the State of Pennsylvania Cap Personal Injury Damages?
While some states place caps on compensatory damages, the state of Pennsylvania is not among them. There are no caps on compensatory damages for personal injury or wrongful death cases, and, under the Pennsylvania Constitution, these caps are considered unconstitutional. There is, however, one exception, which is for personal injury cases against Commonwealth parties (governmental entities).
In such cases the damages may not exceed $250,000. Damages due to a lawsuit against a local agency, such as a school district, may not exceed $500,000. If no intentional misconduct is found in a medical malpractice case, the punitive damages are capped at 200 percent of the awarded compensatory damages. A quarter of any awarded punitive damages in a medical malpractice case are required to go to the MCARE Fund (Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error).
It is important to remember that being awarded a large award in a personal injury case and actually collecting that money can be two different things. Defendants who are ordered to pay a large settlement may hide assets in order to avoid paying. If you have been injured as a result of negligence on the part of another person or entity, you should speak to an experienced Chester County attorney as soon as possible to ensure the most positive outcome in your case.
Contact Our Chester County Personal Injury Lawyers
If you or someone you love has sustained a serious injury due to another person’s negligence in Chester County, Philadelphia, Lancaster, or anywhere in the State of Pennsylvania, it is crucial you speak to an experienced West Chester personal injury lawyer. Your West Chester personal injury attorney will be able to review all of your legal options with you.
The Chester county personal injury attorneys of Ciccarelli Law Offices have successfully represented individuals throughout the state of Pennsylvania that have been injured in accidents. Our Chester County based law firm is based at 304 North High Street, West Chester PA 19380 and serves clients in Kennett Square, Downingtown, West Chester, Coatesville, Exton, Chester Springs, Chadds Ford, Landenberg, Honey Brook, Oxford, Malvern, Parkesburg, Phoenixville and Paoli. Contact us now at (610) 692-8700 or call toll free (877) 529-2422. Don’t wait—contact an attorney immediately.