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Economic Damages vs. Pain and Suffering Compensation in Personal Injury Claims

There are two types of damages that you may recover in a personal injury lawsuit: general and special. General damages are non-economic losses — usually pain and suffering — and have no specific itemized value. For example, if a child’s leg is injured in a car accident, the child will suffer a “partial disability” because she will not be able to play soccer or roller skate, etc. while her leg heals. Her quality of life will be reduced for a certain period of time or for the rest of her life, depending on the injury. The amount of compensation she should receive for her reduced quality of life cannot be specifically calculated, so a jury will need to consider the child’s testimony and the family’s testimony to decide how much the car accident has impacted the child’s quality of life and what that loss is worth in economic terms.

A good trial attorney will know how to present emotional testimony so that the jury will sympathize with the plaintiff’s condition.  The key is that the plaintiff needs to explain specifically to the jury how they were hurt and what limitations and pain they endure on a daily basis. For example, a plaintiff with a ruptured disc might testify that their back hurts every time they try to pick up their child.

Special damages are completely different – these are damages that can be itemized and proven through expert testimony. For example, a construction worker who is making $35,000 a year is struck by an 18 wheeler and suffers a knee injury, making him unable to return to work for the rest of his life. This construction worker is fairly young and has approximately 38 years of active worklife capacity ahead of him. A vocational rehab specialist and an economist can testify that the worker has a wage loss of $35,000 a year for 38 years. In this case, the special damages are the actual value of the wages the worker has lost as a result of the accident.

Another type of special damages is future medicals. We represented a woman in Lafayette, Louisiana who suffered a brain injury in a car accident that caused her to fall into a coma. We hired an expert in medical damages who testified that her future medical costs would easily exceed $10 million.

Your personal injury attorney must be able to prove both types of damages. I have represented many clients who have suffered general and special damages. One of my clients was a man in Eunice, Louisiana whose ankle was broken in an industrial accident.  He suffered a partial wage loss because he could not return to his former job in heavy industry. We were able to prove through expert testimony of a vocational rehab expert and an economist that my client had lost roughly $500,000 in future wages. The jury awarded the $500,000 for specific damages and an additional $300,000 for pain and suffering. The pain and suffering was proven by the testimony of the man, his wife and his family who explained that the man’s life had completely changed as the result of the accident. He was no longer able to participate in some of his favorite activities like hunting and fishing. The jury considered that type of loss to be worth $300,000 in general damages.  If you are unsure what type of damages you may be entitled to recover for your personal injury claim, please contact my office for a free initial consultation.

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