Personal Injury 101
The purpose of bringing a lawsuit for personal injury damages is to make the injured person whole, or as nearly as can be accomplished, by an award of money. The most common elements are medical expenses, pain, and suffering, and lost earnings or earning capacity.
When you are injured as a result of someone's intentional or negligent conduct, you are entitled to be compensated for all your medical costs as a consequence of the accident, including doctor and hospital bills, prescription medications, medical devices, and physical therapy. You may also be entitled to recover future expenses to the extent those can be proven with the evidence presented at trial.
Pain and Suffering
This is the category of damages that is most subjective, and an effective presentation of the evidence at trial is necessary to give the judge or jury a proper sense of the severity of the consequences suffered by the plaintiff. This suffering includes the immediate physical pain caused by the accident, on-going pain from wounds or long-term consequences from a permanent condition. It also includes pain caused by any medical procedures necessary as a result of the accident, such as surgery or physical therapy. Finally, this element of damages can include mental suffering, such as depression or fear.
Lost Earnings and Earning Capacity
The final element is lost earnings and earning capacity. An injured person will often be required to miss some time at work as a result of an accident; sometimes the consequences may be so severe that they cannot return to the same type of work they performed prior to the accident. Lost earnings, like past medical costs, are simple to prove.
Earning capacity is much harder to prove. Many factors need to be weighed and presented to the jury, such as the type of work performed, how long the plaintiff could be expected to work had he or she not been injured, potential advancements, other medical conditions, and family circumstances. Like pain and suffering, this part of the damage award can be very subjective, and plaintiffs need an experienced attorney to organize and present the evidence that helps the jury make the right judgment.