Determining the Type and Amount of Damages You Can Recover With a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Has another person's negligent or wrongful actions caused you to suffer an injury? Call the North Carolina personal injury attorneys at Caulder & Valentine to learn about the benefits of filing a personal injury claim for damages.

North Carolina law permits victims who have been injured through no fault of their own to recover monetary damages from the person responsible for their injuries. These damages are divided into three distinct categories: compensatory, non-economic, and punitive. You may be entitled to recover all, some, or none of these damages. The damages you can recover will depend on the type and seriousness of the injuries you have suffered.

Compensatory Damages

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages, which are also known as economic damages, are awarded to make up for the out-of-pocket financial costs you suffer because of your accident-related injuries. The ultimate purpose of compensatory damages is to put you back in the financial situation you would have been in had the accident never happened. In other words, compensatory damages are intended to make you whole again. As a result, compensatory damages are limited to:

  1. The financial expenses that you have actually suffered; and
  2. The financial expenses that you can reasonably expect to suffer.

Examples of Compensatory Damages

Examples of compensatory damages that are commonly awarded in North Carolina personal injury lawsuits include:

  • Medical expenses (including hospitalization, surgery, and prescription medications);
  • Rehabilitation;
  • Nursing care;
  • Medical devices (including wheelchairs, prosthetics, and health monitoring devices);
  • Medically-necessary home alterations (including the installation of wheelchair ramps or lifts);
  • Lost wages; and
  • Reduced earning capacity.

Calculating Compensatory Damages

You must be able to provide verifiable proof that you have suffered financially because of your accident-related injury.

Out-of-Pocket Expenses: Establishing your out-of-pocket expenses can be fairly simple. In most cases, you can present receipts, invoices, and bills that you have to prove that you have suffered financial costs as a direct result of your injury.

Lost Wages: If you have been forced to miss time at work you may have also lost out on important income. You can use your pay stubs to calculate the income you have lost as a direct result of your injury.

Reduced Earning Capacity: Sometimes an injury will be so severe that it actually limits your ability to work. You can recover compensatory damages to make up for the income that you are likely to lose out on because of your reduced earning capacity. In order to determine what your reduced earning capacity is worth (for the purposes of your lawsuit) you will have to present information concerning:

  • Your past earning capacity;
  • Age;
  • Occupation;
  • Nature and extent of your employment;
  • The value of your services; and
  • How your disability affects your ability to work.

This information will be used to project the value of your future lost income.

Non-Economic Damages

What are Non-Economic Damages?

Some injuries may cause you to suffer from harms that don't necessarily have a direct financial cost. However, just because these injuries don't cost you anything out-of-pocket does not make them any less serious or harmful. Instead, these injuries cause you to suffer physically, emotionally, and/or psychologically. Non-economic damages exist to compensate you for these subjective and hard-to-value injuries.

Examples of Non-Economic Damages

Examples of non-economic damages that are commonly awarded in North Carolina personal injury lawsuits include:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Scars;
  • Disfigurement;
  • Partial or total loss of the use of your body;
  • Loss of consortium; and
  • Loss of enjoyment of life.

Calculating Non-Economic Damages

What is a person's pain and suffering worth? How much should a victim be compensated for the emotional trauma they endure because of an unexpected and life-altering injury? The answer will vary significantly from case to case. There are no standards for calculating or determining what these subjective and personal injuries are worth. Instead, a jury will generally be required to determine an appropriate award of non-economic damages. When a personal injury lawsuit reaches a jury, they will consider:

  1. The seriousness of the injury,
  2. The extent to which it is has negatively affected the victim's life, and
  3. How much money would reasonably compensate the victim for the harms they have suffered.

It is important to note that in most situations, the recovery of non-economic damages from medical malpractice claims will be capped at $500,000.

Punitive Damages

What are Punitive Damages?

If the person responsible for your injuries acted fraudulently, maliciously, or with willful or wanton conduct you may also be entitled to recover punitive damages. Unlike compensatory and non-economic damages, punitive damages are not linked to your specific injuries. Instead, punitive damages are simply awarded to punish a defendant for their “egregiously wrongful acts” and deter them from engaging in similar behavior in the future.

Calculating Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are calculated separately from compensatory and non-economic damages. A jury who is considering an award of punitive damages must consider the following factors:

  • How reprehensible the defendant's actions were;
  • If the defendant was aware that his/her actions were likely to cause harm;
  • If the defendant has a history of engaging in this harmful behavior;
  • The actual damages you have suffered; and
  • The defendant's ability to pay punitive damages.

When a jury determines that punitive damages are appropriate, they must cap the award at either three times the amount of compensatory damage, or $250,000, whichever is greater.

Experienced North Carolina Personal Injury Attorneys

Have you been injured in a North Carolina accident through no fault of your own? If so, do not hesitate to contact the personal injury lawyers at Caulder & Valentine for help. Our attorneys understand that an unexpected injury can change your life forever. A serious or life-threatening injury can generate significant medical expenses, force you to miss time away from work, and even limit your ability to work in the future. Fortunately, North Carolina allows injured accident victims to recover compensation for their accident-related costs. You have the right to fight for compensation, and our experienced personal injury attorneys can help. Call us today at 704-470-2440 to set up a consultation to learn more.