Special damages, also known as economic damages, consist of the expenses and financial losses a person suffers due to a personal injury. As the victim of a personal injury, you generally have the right to receive compensation for your special damages. Here’s an overview of the components of special damages, and how an experienced personal injury lawyer can work to ensure you receive the maximum available compensation for them.
They’re a Category of Compensatory Damages
Suffering an injury because of someone else’s wrongful actions—such as in a motor vehicle accident, slip and fall, or instance of medical malpractice or nursing home abuse—generally gives the victim a right to receive compensation for the harm they’ve suffered. Lawyers refer to that harm as the victim’s compensatory damages; that is, harm for which a payment of money can serve as compensation.
The law divides compensatory damages into two broad categories—special (or economic) and general (or non-economic).
- Special (economic) damages, which are the subject of this blog post, consist of expenses and financial losses directly resulting from a personal injury.
- General (non-economic) damages constitute all of the ways—other than financial—that a personal injury can inflict harm on a victim, including physical pain, emotional suffering, and diminished quality of life.
Special and general damages are the two most common forms of damages for which victims can receive payment in a personal injury lawsuit. But they’re not the only ones. In certain cases, the law can prescribe payment of other types of damages, too.
- Punitive damages are sometimes available if the party at fault for a personal injury has engaged in extreme or intentionally harmful misconduct.
- Statutory damages can form a part of a victim’s claim in cases where the at-fault party’s harmful conduct violated a law that provides for payment of a fixed penalty to the victim.
It’s not always easy to predict the categories of damages you could pursue through a personal injury lawsuit. Every personal injury case has its own unique facts and circumstances that dictate the parameters of the victim’s potential claim.
You can’t necessarily look at one person’s financial recovery in a personal injury lawsuit and draw conclusions about what yours might be. Instead, the most reliable way to learn about the potential damages in your case is to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about them.
Common Elements of Special Damages in Personal Injury Cases
Virtually any direct expense or financial loss can constitute special damages in a personal injury case. But some are especially common. Here’s a rundown of the significant elements of special damages in most personal injury lawsuits.
The cost of medical care frequently constitutes the largest component of special damages in a personal injury case. That will probably come as no surprise to anyone who has received a medical bill.
According to Healthcare.gov, the average cost of a three-day hospital stay is around $30,000, and that doesn’t even include the costs for services like diagnostic imaging, emergency treatment, or ambulance transport. Even something as simple as setting and casting a broken leg costs around $7,500, with additional expenses likely for physical therapy, prescription pain relievers, and other care.
If you suffered severe or permanent injuries—like brain trauma or spinal cord damage—the sky’s the limit for your potential medical expenses. For example, according to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation (CDRF), treatment for any loss of function resulting from a spinal cord injury can result in at least $380,000 of expenses in the first year after the injury alone, with another $46,000 per year thereafter. The lifetime cost of care for major injuries like these can easily reach millions of dollars.
Special damages in a personal injury lawsuit can usually include all past, present, and future medical expenses you may face due to your injury. That includes not just the bills you get for direct medical treatments like doctor visits, surgeries and procedures, or therapy, but also for medication, medical equipment, transportation to and from medical appointments, in-home care, and modifications to your living space to facilitate your healing or allow you to live independently.
Personal injury lawyers frequently work closely with medical and financial experts to calculate the potential medical expenses you could face due to your injury. Their aim is to ensure that your claim for special damages seeks an amount sufficient to cover all those costs so that you have the financial support you need for the rest of your life.
Income, Job Benefit, and Future Earning Loss
Personal injuries frequently prevent victims from working at least temporarily and sometimes permanently. The loss of income and job benefits from being forced out of work by an injury constitutes another substantial component of special damages in many personal injury lawsuits.
In the typical case, you can seek payment for special damages that include:
- Income you did not earn because you missed work while healing
- Job benefits you did not receive or accrue because you missed work while healing
- The value of paid time off (PTO), sick leave, or vacation days you used while out of work healing from your injury
- Loss of future earnings, job benefits, or economic opportunities as a consequence of missing work to heal or suffering from an injury-related disability
Lawyers typically calculate wage loss based on your past earnings and a reasonable estimate of your future earning potential. They may also work with medical, financial, or occupational experts to come up with projections of the negative financial impact of a disability on your future earnings. As a general rule, the more severe your injury and the greater your disability, the larger the amount you may have the right to claim as lost income.
Property Damage and Other Non-Medical Expenses
Special damages in a personal injury lawsuit also commonly include a wide range of non-medical expenses stemming from the circumstances that caused the injury or living with the injury.
These may include:
- The cost of repairing or replacing damaged personal property, such as a vehicle, personal electronics, or other items of value
- Relocation, reconstruction, or household repair expenses
- Fees for replacement services to assist you while living with an injury or disability, such as child care support or specialty transportation
- Loss of the income of a family member who must leave work to become your caregiver
These are just some examples of the sorts of non-medical expenses that may form part of special damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Experienced personal injury lawyers work closely with their clients to identify all costs and financial losses flowing from a personal injury.
How Personal Injury Lawyers Calculate and Prove Special Damages
Obtaining compensation for special damages involves using evidence to calculate their value and prove them in court or to an insurance company.
Evidence of special damages generally consists of documentation reflecting the victim’s expenses and losses, such as:
- Medical bills
- Receipts for medical and other expenses
- Insurance coverage statements and Explanations of Benefits (EOBs)
- Invoices for replacement goods or services
- Past pay stubs or wage statements
- Expert reports projecting future expenses or needs
Of the categories of damages recoverable in a personal injury lawsuit, special damages tend to be the most straightforward to calculate and prove. But that doesn’t mean you can do it alone. A skilled lawyer dives into the details to give every dollar of claimed special damages evidentiary support. The goal is to leave insurance companies and courts with no doubt about the amount of special damages compensation due to the victim.
If you’ve suffered personal injuries, be sure to save all documentation available to you that reflects the financial impact you’ve suffered. Doing so will help to simplify the process of proving your special damages and getting you paid for them.
Factors Affecting Whether You Receive Full Payment for Special Damages
The amount of special damages you suffer might not always be the amount you can count on receiving as compensation. Several factors can affect whether an at-fault party or insurance company fully compensates you for your special damages.
The Strength of Your Case
Personal injury cases vary in terms of the strength of the claim they can make to a court or insurance company. Generally speaking, the more evidence there is demonstrating your expenses and financial losses, and that someone is liable to you for them, the stronger your case and the greater the likelihood of full compensation. In contrast, a claim tends to lose some of its value if it lacks evidence to support it or if the party being sued can raise genuine disputes about their liability.
You can help boost the strength of your case for special damages by hiring a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Evidence supporting your claim tends to be easiest to locate and preserve soon after your injuries occur. The longer you wait to ask a lawyer to handle your case, the greater the risk of evidence going missing or getting destroyed, which can undermine your claim’s potential value.
Promptly hiring a lawyer also protects you against missing a critical deadline in your case. Every personal injury claim has an expiration date, known as the statute of limitations, after which you may not take your demand for compensation to court. Missing that deadline means losing your rights to payment for your special damages. If you act quickly, a personal injury attorney can take the necessary action to make sure your rights to don’t expire.
The Skill, Experience, and Reputation of Your Lawyer
Personal injury lawyers vary in their skill, experience, and reputation.
The right lawyer for your personal injury case is one who:
- Has a wealth of experience in personal injury cases similar to yours
- Works with an all-star team of attorneys
- Boasts a demonstrated track record of successful case results
- Has earned the trust and admiration of former clients and fellow lawyers
- Serves the area where your personal injury happened
- Offers comprehensive client resources to keep you up to date on your case
Generally speaking, lawyers with these credentials tend to achieve the goal of securing maximum compensation consistently. In some cases, simply hiring a skilled, experienced, well-regarded lawyer boosts the probability of obtaining a top-dollar settlement by giving defense lawyers and insurance companies a reason not to want to test their luck in court.
No lawyer can guarantee results, of course. But by hiring a top-flight personal injury attorney, you can give yourself the best chance of full compensation for your special (and other) damages.
The Financial Resources Available to Pay You
Receiving full compensation for your special damages may also depend on the financial resources liable parties have available with which to pay you. That party may carry insurance to cover your losses, for instance, or have assets from which they can pay compensation. The greater those financial resources, the higher the likelihood of receiving full payment.
Experienced personal injury lawyers recognize that they can enhance their clients’ potential recovery by identifying as many liable parties as possible. After all, the more sources of payment of your special damages they find, the more money potentially available to cover your expenses, losses, and future needs.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer About Your Special Damages
Special, or economic, damages constitute a substantial component of most personal injury claims. As the victim of a personal injury, you deserve to receive full compensation for the past and future expenses and financial losses caused by your trauma.
Hiring a skilled personal injury attorney is the best way to obtain that compensation, or as much of it as possible in your circumstances. While you focus your energies on healing and rebuilding from an injury, a lawyer can take care of every step of the process of holding at-fault parties and insurance companies financially accountable to you.
So, don’t delay, Deadlines may apply to your case. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today for a free case evaluation.