You deserve compensation after another person’s careless actions caused your injury in Indiana. This compensation comes in the form of monetary damages that serve to reimburse you for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and other losses you experienced. There are several types of damages that your personal injury lawyer can assist you in recovering.
While every case is different, there are tools available to help you learn the types and amounts of damages in personal injury cases.
Types of Personal Injury Damages
What are compensatory damages and punitive damages? They are two types of personal injury damages. When comparing compensatory damages vs. punitive damages, note two different purposes.
- The purpose of compensatory damages is to restore you to the position you would have been in had the accident never occurred.
- Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for misconduct.
Punitive damages are not considered compensatory. Instead, they punish the defendant for “willful and wanton” misconduct.
What Are Compensatory Damages?
Compensatory damages come in two different types:
- Economic damages, known as special damages;
- Non-economic damages, known as general damages.
These two types of compensatory damages are designed to compensate you for both your tangible losses and your intangible losses.
Special compensatory damages, such as medical expenses, are easy to count. General compensatory damages, such as psychological losses, are more difficult to count. Despite this difficulty, general damages often amount to more than 50% of an entire award. The persuasiveness of your lawyer often plays a decisive role in the amount of general compensatory damages you receive.
Special Compensatory Damages (Monetary Losses)
You are entitled to compensation for any monetary losses that you suffered as a result of the defendant's wrongful conduct, as long as the losses are reasonably related to that conduct.
Medical expenses include past, present, and estimated future medical expenses. In addition to hospital bills, you might require compensation for:
- Lab testing;
- Medical equipment such as a dialysis machine or a wheelchair;
- Doctor's visits; and
- Various other items.
Calculating medical expenses can be tricky if you suffer long-term disability. It is critical that you accurately calculate future medical expenses so that you don't run out of money, say, 30 years from now.
Lost Income and Earning Capacity
If you needed two weeks off of work due to your injury, you should receive compensation for your lost earnings. The difficult part of this calculation, however, lies in calculating future earning capacity in case of long-term injury. If your injury forces you to retire early, how much would you have been earning 20 years from now if the accident had never occurred? It is important to get this right.
You might have suffered damage to your property as well as your body. The most common type of property loss in a personal injury case is a damaged or totaled automobile. Although strictly speaking, property damage does not constitute “personal injury”, you can include it as a component of your damages claim, depending on the circumstances.
Loss of Irreplaceable Items
You might have lost certain items of property that cannot be replaced and that were worth more to you than their economic value alone. You can claim compensation for these items as well.
General Compensatory Damages (Non-Monetary Losses)
Non-economic compensatory damages are usually psychological losses, which are typically difficult to calculate. Nevertheless, they can be very high.
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering compensatory damages compensate you for physical pain and suffering, not purely psychological pain. Of course, physical pain necessarily carries with it corresponding psychological anguish, and this is included within pain and suffering damages.
Lowered Quality of Life
Suppose that your injury left you confined to a wheelchair or unable to exercise or play sports. This would result in a decreased quality of life for you, apart from physical pain, that the defendant should compensate you for.
Emotional distress damages might be high if, for example, an accident disfigured your face, causing you to experience social isolation and low self-esteem. Another example would be PTSD or pathological fear of dogs resulting from a dog attack.
If someone dies in an accident, they cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit. If they were adults when they died, however, the personal representative of their probate estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit. If they were a child at the time of death, their parents or guardian can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Punitive damages, also known as “exemplary damages,” are a unique form of personal injury compensation. They are intended to deter grossly irresponsible or wrongful behavior, rather than to compensate the victim. Nevertheless, it is the victim who receives these damages. Indiana limits punitive damages to three times the amount of compensatory damages or $50,000, whichever is greater. There are also State limits to the amount of money you are entitled to keep out of a punitive damage award.
Examples of cases where punitive damages might be appropriate include:
- A “road rage” intentional assault;
- An accident caused by a severely intoxicated driver; or
- Medical malpractice that occurs when a surgeon performs an operation while intoxicated.
It should be noted, however, that exemplary awards are quite rare in most cases associated with negligence. Courts normally do not award punitive damages in most cases.
How to Prove Pain and Suffering Damages
Proving that you suffered mental pain, anguish, and turmoil is not like proving other types of damages. There is no bill that assigns a cost to the mental anguish you experience and no invoice that assigns a dollar figure to how pain has impacted you.
There are ways, though, that you can support your claim for compensation of damages for pain and suffering:
- Talk to your doctor about your pain, its severity, and its effect on your life;
- See a therapist and discuss any depression or troubling thoughts you are experiencing;
- Document your life after your accident, describing your days, your thoughts, and any emotional pain you are experiencing.
If you cannot write down your thoughts and experiences yourself, ask a family member to do so. Or you could make a video or digital diary. Your friends and family can also provide testimony about your experiences since the accident.
What Documentation Do I Need to Support My Pain and Suffering Claim?
Your personal injury attorneys can use these and other documents to support a claim for pain and suffering damages in a personal injury case:
- Treatment records and diagnoses from mental health professionals before and after your injury;
- Your therapist’s notes concerning your attendance and need for counseling;
- Your doctor’s notes about the pain you describe during medical treatment and appointments;
- Your testimony about your experiences after your accident and how your injuries impact your daily life.
And lastly, you can ask close friends and family members about changes they have observed in you since your accident.
How to Calculate Personal Injury Damages
How much compensation can you get for a personal injury claim? It is easy to find a compensation personal injury claims calculator on the Internet. Although this might give you a very general idea of how much your claim is worth, you need to have your lawyer issue a formal personal injury compensation estimate after sufficient investigation before you will really know a proper number.
To calculate the value of your personal injury claim, divide your potential compensation into the categories of compensatory and punitive damages. Further divide compensatory damages into special and general damages. After that, add individual components such as medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost earnings, etc.
The final step is to consider practical limitations. How great are the defendant's financial resources? What are the limits of the applicable insurance policy? Finally, how good is your lawyer at negotiating a generous settlement?
Insurance companies sometimes use a tool, though somewhat outdated, to estimate the total personal injury damages a person might receive. The formula requires you to assign a numerical value for personal damage between one and five (one being less severe and five being catastrophic). Then, make the following calculation:
Economic Damages x Injury Severity (1 to 5) = Total Damages Available
For example, suppose you suffered a severe concussion and sustained $75,000 in economic damages. Your estimated Indiana personal injury damages award would be between $300,000 and $375,000.
However, insurance companies are not always transparent in the methods they use to value cases. At times, the amount of recovery can also be dependent on factors like the preparedness and thoroughness of records provided by law firms, well detailed "pain diaries", the types of injuries involved (soft tissue vs. "hard" injuries like broken bones and scarring), and numerous other intangibles.
So, while we can estimate what your case might be worth, these are educated guesses based on our previous clients' cases.
This formula is only a rough estimate of how to calculate damages in a personal injury case. Experienced personal injury lawyers can more accurately estimate your financial recovery.
Can Online Personal Injury Damages Calculators Really Give Settlement Estimates?
Can online settlement calculators tell you the damages for personal injury you might receive? The answer is no; these calculators only provide a rough estimate. The amount and types of personal injury damages will depend on numerous factors.
So how are damages calculated in personal injury cases? A damages worksheet can give you a fair estimate. But the best way is with the help of a qualified Indiana personal injury lawyer.
Limits of Damages in Personal Injury Cases in Indiana
There are four specific damage caps that Indiana law places on the amount you can recover in a personal injury lawsuit:
- Medical Malpractice Claims: For medical malpractice cases filed on or after June 30, 2019, you may recover up to $1.8 million. The medical malpractice damages cap before this date was $1.65 million.
- Wrongful Death Lawsuits: The estate of an unmarried adult age 23 and older who was killed in a negligence accident cannot recover more than $300,000 in total damages if the decedent had no surviving dependents. This is the only type of wrongful death case in Indiana with damage caps.
- Lawsuits Against Government Entities: Almost all suits against a state, county, or local government body has a damages cap of $700,000.
- Modified Comparative Fault: If you are determined to be at least 51% responsible for causing the accident or your injuries, you will be barred from recovering any economic damages or non-economic damages in Indiana.
If you are less than 51% responsible for your car accident or personal injury, your damages award will be reduced in proportion to the fault attributable to you.
Time Limits on Indiana Personal Injury Lawsuits
Each state sets limits on how quickly a personal injury lawsuit must be filed, including Indiana. If you are hurt by another’s carelessness, you have two years from the date of the accident to file your lawsuit for damages. In most cases, this two-year deadline begins to count down on the day you are hurt. Very few circumstances can stop the countdown or enlarge the two-year window.
If you are suing a government entity, you have 180 days to file a claim if you are suing a county or local government entity and 270 days if it is a state government entity.
Accident victims who fail to file a lawsuit within these timeframes are generally unable to recover any damages.
Contact an Experienced Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer for Help
Claiming compensation for personal injury (or wrongful death, for that matter) is a tricky business. You must separately consider each component of damages. In a serious long-term injury, the consequences of underestimating the value of your claim could spell disaster years or even decades later.
That's alright, because we know how to calculate the true value of your claim. Call 219-525-1000, or contact us online. We serve clients in Crown Point [46307, 46308], Merrillville [46410, 46411], Hammond [46320, 46323], and elsewhere in Northwest Indiana.