The accidents that cause personal injuries can happen unexpectedly to almost anyone at almost any moment. You could be struck by a car while crossing the street, injured by a doctor or by a dentist, or slip and fall on spilled liquid in a supermarket. Different kinds of injuries and situations qualify victims of negligence for different types of personal injury damages. This is a general overview of the several types of personal injury damages, but you’ll need to discuss the specifics of your own case with an experienced Houston personal injury attorney if you are injured by negligence in the state of Texas.
If you have sustained a personal injury in a car accident, a slip-and-fall, or any other accident due to the negligence of another person, and you are considering a personal injury lawsuit, you may wonder, “What will my claim actually be worth?” The answer is what the law calls “damages,” the amount you are awarded as compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and additional injury-related expenses. In some cases, “punitive” damages are also awarded to penalize the negligent conduct that resulted in your injuries.
When a personal injury claim prevails, damages are paid to an injury victim (the “plaintiff”) by the person (or that person’s insurance company) who is deemed legally responsible for the accident (the “defendant”). A damage award can be negotiated by the attorneys outside of the courtroom or ordered by a judge or by a jury following a trial. Below, the different kinds of damages awarded in personal injury cases are explained.
WHAT ARE COMPENSATORY DAMAGES?
Most personal injury damages awarded in the state of Texas are “compensatory.” They are intended to compensate the injured plaintiff financially for what he or she lost because of the accident and injury. Compensatory damage awards are aimed at making the injured plaintiff “whole” again from a financial perspective – at least to the extent that’s possible. This means placing a dollar amount on all of the costs and consequences of an accident and injury.
Some compensatory damages are easily determinable – you’ll have a specific figure for property damages, medical expenses, and lost wages. It’s a lot more difficult to determine the financial value of pain, suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, or the inability to continue enjoying life because of accident-related injuries. Here’s a look at the compensatory damages most commonly awarded in Texas personal injury cases:
- Medical Expenses: A personal injury award almost always covers the medical care that a victim requires after an accident as well as any continuing care or treatment subsequently required. Victims of catastrophic and disabling injuries will need comprehensive, long-term care that can ultimately cost several million dollars over a lifetime. In such instances, an aggressive personal injury attorney will fight for the maximum possible compensation and will not recommend that victims settle for less.
- Lost Income: You may be entitled to receive compensation after an accident for lost wages if your personal injuries prevent you from working. If your injury is long-term or permanent, you are also entitled to wages you would have made in the future – your “lost earning capacity.”
- Property Losses: If any vehicles, clothing, or other items were damaged in the accident, you’ll probably be entitled to reimbursement for the repairs or consideration for the fair market value of whatever property was lost.
- Pain and Suffering: Personal injury victims may be entitled to compensation for the pain and suffering they experienced during and after an accident. Physical pain and suffering is the direct result of physical injuries, but mental pain and suffering is a by-product of the physical injuries and may include anguish, fear, anger, humiliation, anxiety, and shock. Mental pain and suffering is any kind of negative emotion generated by the physical pain and trauma of the accident and injury.
- Emotional Distress: Legally speaking, emotional distress is usually linked to more severe injuries and their long-term impact. Some states include emotional distress as part of pain and suffering, but other states consider it separately.
- Loss of Consortium: In personal injury awards, loss of consortium damages are meant to compensate married persons for the loss of their ability to maintain a sexual relationship.
- Loss of the Enjoyment of Life: When injuries caused by negligence prevent someone from enjoying eating, exercising, or hobbies and other recreational activities, defendants may be entitled to damages for the “loss of the enjoyment of life.”
WHAT ARE PUNITIVE DAMAGES?
When a defendant’s negligence has been exceedingly careless or indifferent, a personal injury victim may in some cases receive punitive damages along with compensatory damages. While compensatory damages are awarded in an effort to “make someone whole” again, the legal principle behind punitive damages is punishment and deterrence. Punitive damages are only awarded in the most egregious personal injury cases. If you’ve been injured by negligence in Texas, a Houston personal injury attorney can tell you if punitive damages may be available in your own case.
Most states impose a cap on punitive damages in personal injury cases. In Texas, punitive damages in a personal injury case may not exceed twice the amount of economic damages plus the amount of non-economic damages up to $750,000. For example, a defendant receiving a million dollars for medical expenses and $500,000 for pain and suffering might potentially receive $2.5 million in punitive damages.
WHAT OTHER DAMAGE CAPS DOES TEXAS ENFORCE?
In medical malpractice cases in Texas, the Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act of 2003 caps the amount a plaintiff can receive for non-economic damages. A medical malpractice victim can sue a physician or a healthcare practitioner for no more than $250,000 in non-economic damages. A victim can sue a facility or institution for $250,000 in non-economic damages but may not sue all facilities or institutions named as defendants for more than a total of $500,000 in non-economic damages. Thus, $750,000 (adjusted for inflation since 2003) is the maximum a person can obtain in non-economic damages with a medical malpractice claim.
Government bodies and agencies in Texas are immune from liability in some personal injury cases. When those bodies and agencies do have liability, there is a cap on what plaintiffs can receive. If the defendant is the state, a municipality, or an emergency service like a police or fire department, the cap for each person injured is $250,000 but cannot exceed $500,000 for a single incident.
Thus, if a Texas law enforcement officer is driving negligently and injures four people, the four will have to split the maximum available amount of $500,000 – even if their claim is actually worth much more. If a personal injury defendant is a government entity other than the state, a municipality, or an emergency service, damages are capped at $100,000 for each plaintiff and $300,000 for a single incident.