What are "Damages" in a Personal Injury Case?

Good Morning. I’m Marcus Michles, and welcome to this week’s installment of our video blog. I want to talk to you a little bit about damages, and sometimes that’s translated into “hey, what’s my case worth?” You know a lot of people don’t understand in personal injury cases that the damages are a measure of compensation as opposed to punishment. You hear about punitive damages, read a lot about that in the press, but I’m going to tell you having done this for about 30 years now, I have never achieved an award of punitive damages. It’s very, very rare. Instead damages are a measure of compensation. So if you get into an accident, and you get hurt and you miss a day of work, for example, you’re entitled to compensation for that lost wages. If you have medical bills that you incur, you’re entitled to compensation for the bills that you’ve incurred. If you lose the enjoyment of your day or you have pain and suffering and other problems, you’re entitled to be compensated for those losses, which is an entirely different thing from punitive damages.

So now that you understand compensatory damages, how do you calculate compensatory damages? In other words, if you get into an accident, how do you know what that case is worth? Well, there are two basic categories of compensatory damages. I call them tangible and intangible damages. Tangible damages are those damages that you can calculate with a receipt or paper – some documentation. So tangible damages would include, for example, your lost wages. If you make a hundred dollars a day and you miss a day of work, you’re entitled to a hundred dollars, not too complicated. If you have a long-term injury, you can calculate your long-term lost wages in a similar way, but what about intangible damages? That other category? That’s the category that’s a little fuzzier, because you don’t have a receipt for it.

For example, let’s say you love to horseback ride, but your back or your neck is injured, and it hurts to ride your horse. Let’s say you’ve got all this investment in your horse. You got tackle and a trailer and a truck, and you know time and commitment, and you own a horse, and you love it. It’s your passion. You love to ride the horse, but because of your injuries, you can no longer enjoy riding your horse.

Well, most people would agree that you’re entitled to compensation for that, but how do you calculate it? How do you calculate the enjoyment of riding your horse? That’s an intangible damage.

So let me point out a couple of things about car accident cases, particularly in Florida. We have what’s called the permanence threshold, and the permanent threshold means that you have to prove that you have a permanent injury before you’re entitled to intangible damages, intangible compensatory damages. So if you were hurt for 30 days, and your neck bothered you for 30 days, and you weren’t able to ride your horse for 30 days, but you healed completely and you did not sustain a permanent injury, in Florida you’re not permitted to the compensatory damages of that lost 30-day enjoyment of riding your horse. On the other hand, if a doctor concludes that you have a permanent injury, one that’s never going to get any better, and you can prove that it prevents you from doing something you love to do, you are entitled to make a claim for compensatory damages, intangible compensatory damages. Now if you’re confused, don’t worry.

Sometimes it’s hard to pick up these terms, but the bottom line really is this – if you get hurt in an accident, you’re entitled to compensation for your losses. You have the obligation, your lawyer might have the obligation, to prove those damages.

Let’s say for example you’re supposed to start a job on Monday. Well, you didn’t really lose wages, because you didn’t already have that job, but you got into an accident on Saturday, and you’re in the hospital and you couldn’t make it to your new job, and you lost the opportunity to have that new job. Well, it’s not quite a tangible damage, because you didn’t have receipts for the wages that you actually lost, but you lost the opportunity to earn those wages. If you can prove that, you can get compensated for that. You know, I tell people often that the law is supposed to make sense. It’s just supposed to make common sense. Think about it. If you lost something and you can prove that you lost that thing as a result of someone else’s negligence or causing a car accident, you’re entitled to compensation, but keep in mind that permanent threshold. That’s a trick in the statute that a lot of people aren’t aware of. You have to prove that you have a permanent injury before you can get those intangible damages.

Well, if I’ve confused you, give me a call. I’ll try to make it more clear. If I haven’t confused you, I hope you understand the difference between tangible and intangible damages and the difference between compensatory and punitive damages, but if you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to give me a call.

I’m Marcus Michles here at Michles & Booth. You can find us at michlesbooth.com/blog. I think, it his. Blake is shaking his head, because I get that wrong about 50% percent of time. If you have any questions, give me a call. I’ll be happy to address them. If you’ve got ideas for things and topics you want me to go over, just let us know.

In the meantime, have a safe week. We’ll see you next week!


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