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What are Damages in Auto Accident Cases?

This is the single most asked question Personal Injury and Auto Accident Lawyers are asked, and it is also the most difficult to explain to victims and members of their family.

Generally, damages are an award – usually of money – that is given to a person harmed by the wrongful conduct of another to compensate them for the injuries to their person, property or both. Under Illinois law, a jury is required to consider the “nature, extent, and duration” of a victim’s injuries in order to determine damages. In Illinois there are different kinds of damages including:

  • Compensatory
  • Actual
  • Punitive

The types of damages that can be awarded in a case differ depending on the type of case involved such as a breach of contract case or a personal injury lawsuit. In a contract case, for example, the non-breaching party is limited to recover only the amount of the actual damages they sustained. However, in a personal injury case, the injured party is usually entitled to recover different kinds of compensatory damages that include:

  • Economic losses: A loss of earnings, both from the date of the accident to the date of recovery (trial), as well as the future earning capacity that is lost because of the injury. Economic damages encompass anything related to a loss including ambulance fees, car rentals, vehicle repair and replacement, and attorneys’ fees.
  • Property: Damage to property such as a vehicle.
  • Medical Expenses: Past, current, and future expenses. A victim is entitled to receive compensation for bills paid or for which they are liable to pay, for reasonable, usual and customary medical services.
  • Noneconomic: General damages which are usually referred to as “pain and suffering” and emotional distress. This category of damages can be difficult to explain and to quantify as it includes past and future physical and emotional pain, disability and trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Each of these is a well-recognized part of the damage equation that experienced Chicago Auto Accident Lawyers are well versed in figuring out to help their clients get the maximum amount of recovery and compensation for their losses. But before a victim can recover damages, it is first necessary to prove that the other party caused the harm. It is only after it has been established that the harm was caused by the other party, that we can start the discussion of damages.

This may be best described by the terms of Illinois Jury Instruction 30.01 which judges give to juries guiding the jury on what damages they can award The instruction says:

If you decide for the plaintiff on the question of liability, you must then fix the amount of money which will reasonably and fairly compensate him for any of the following elements of damages proved by the evidence to have resulted from the [negligence] [wrongful conduct] [of the defendant], [taking into consideration (the nature, extent and duration of the injury) (and) (the aggravation of any pre-existing ailment or condition)].”

There are a number of factors that experienced Chicago Auto Accident Lawyers are familiar with in calculating the amount of damages both for settlement purposes and to present to a jury including:

  • The age of the injured party
  • The present and future earning capacity of the injured party
  • The nature and extent of the physical injuries sustained
  • Emotional injuries
  • Disability or loss of normal life
  • Medical expenses incurred to date
  • Future medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive Damages
What Are Present and Future Earnings?

A victim is allowed to recover for time lost from work as well as for future loss of earnings or profits. Recovery is allowed for lost earnings even if the victim was paid a regular wage during their time off from work.

Future lost earnings relate to those earnings and profits that are reasonably certain to be lost in the future. In many instances, future earning capacity is determined by deducting the amount the victim was capable of earning after the injury from the amount that the victim was earning before the injury. Skilled Chicago Auto Accident Lawyers can assist in determining the amounts of present and future earnings you are entitled to recover from the individual or company responsible for your accident and injuries.

Emotional Injuries Caused by Illinois Accidents

Under Illinois law, a victim is entitled to compensation for their emotional or psychological injuries. Although such emotional injuries, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD can be difficult to quantify, in many instances such emotional distress leads to physical injuries including loss of appetite, mood swings, and insomnia. For a victim to seek compensation for emotional injuries, they must demonstrate the following:

  • The Defendant had a duty of care
  • The duty of care was breached
  • The breach of duty of care caused the accident
  • The victim sustained damages as a result of the accident

In some instances, a bystander to an accident is also entitled to damages for an emotional injury. A bystander needs to show that they were in the zone of danger, that they reasonably feared for their safety and that they suffered physical injuries or illnesses as a result of the emotional distress caused by the defendant’s negligence.

Disability or Loss of Normal Life

Disability or loss of normal life is defined as a temporary or permanent diminished ability to enjoy life. The loss can relate to almost any type of activity ranging from hobbies to day-to-day actions. Only a Chicago Auto Accident Lawyer can review your specific situation and determine which activities are appropriate for inclusion in a request for loss of normal life damages.

What is Pain and Suffering?

This is how the law tries to determine and quantify the amount of physical pain and emotional distress the harmed person suffered as a result of being victimized in an auto accident or other personal injury accident. This can include such things as physical pain, depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, fear, grief, worry, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life and other subjective factors. When these are described and set out in the proofs at trial, the jury can award any amount it believes proper to compensate the victim.

Punitive Damages

Unlike other types of damages, punitive damages are intended to punish the Defendant for his or her bad behavior. Illinois judges only award such damages in limited situations where the defendant engaged in dangerous or reckless conduct.

Judges do not give the jury any instructions on how to calculate damages, but experienced Auto Accident Lawyers understand how to present the facts to insurance companies and to juries to maximize the amount of settlement or verdict awarded on behalf of victims. If you have been injured in a car accident, you should consult with experienced Chicago Auto Accident Lawyers like Peter Wachowski.