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6 MOST COMMON TYPES OF DAMAGES FROM PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS
When someone files for a personal injury claim, they are seeking to be compensated for the “damages” they suffered. Below are descriptions of 6 common categories of damages. These categories help determine how a claim is pursued. Claims for objectively provable damages like “wage loss” are handled differently than claims for subjective damages like “emotional” damages. Sometimes claims can have multiple categories of damages, creating a larger, more complicated case. When suffering a personal injury due to the negligence of another, its recommended that you consult an attorney about your rights. Statistics show that claimants routinely receive more money at the end of the process if they retain an attorney – even after the attorney’s fees – than if they do not. Having the tools to correctly identify and prove the correct categories of damages is crucial to a proper recovery. Below are 6 common categories of damages, and information about their specifics for Washington State.
Types of Bodily Injury Claims for Personal Injury Resulting from a Motor Vehicle Collision
Washington State allows for certain types of claims that may be brought against an at-fault driver’s insurance company for personal injury resulting from a motor vehicle collision. Each state is slightly different. It is important to know that, when making a claim for bodily injury against another driver’s insurance policy, the other driver has limited the available funds to pay for your damages when they selected his or her own “liability policy limits”. In other words, that person has already chosen the maximum amount of compensation available to cover your damages in the event they are found be to liable for a collision. The minimum amount of policy coverage that Washington State drivers are required to carry is $25,000.00 per person for each bodily injury claim, and $50,000.00 in total for the entirety of that claim. Learn more about dealing with an auto accident in Washington State.
In WA State personal injury law, there are two overarching types of damages that are compensable. “Special damages”, otherwise known as “economic damages” are losses that you can produce a document – like a bill. This includes the cost of your medical bills, loss of wages and out-of-pocket expenses.
The second type of damage is called “general damage.” This type of damage relates to your physical pain, suffering, mental anguish, frustration, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, and general trouble for your physical and emotional injuries. These types of damages are losses that cannot be scientifically calculated. There is no secret equation that provides a universal calculation for your pain and suffering. The value of your general damages depends on your ability to produce evidence and proof that is compelling to an insurance company or jury, and can lead them to understand the intrinsic value of your experience. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to determine a fair valuation for your general damages based upon the merits of your case, the available evidence, and their knowledge of comparable cases and previous awards obtained in and out of court.
To make a successful claim against an at-fault driver’s insurance company for bodily injuries related to a motor vehicle collision, Washington State courts require documented evidence of the injuries. Insurance adjusters and representatives, while not attorneys, know this and will not make an offer of settlement without medical documentation of your injuries. This means proof of your medical visits and diagnoses. As you get health care treatment for your physical injuries, your doctors compile medical “chart notes” summarizing their evaluations, assessments, treatment and prognosis. Attorneys use these chart notes to prove the extent of your injuries and damages caused by the collision. This medical proof sets the stage for the value of your case. Therefore, it is crucial to proving the injuries in your case that you are vigilant in seeking and documenting your medical care.
Example: Tyler is rear-ended by another driver at a stop light. Police are called to the scene, and Tyler is transported to the emergency room via ambulance to Sacred Heart Hospital. Tyler receives emergency care and is referred for physical therapy and chiropractic treatment. Tyler treats with his physical therapist and chiropractor for 3 months. His health care providers record his symptoms, conditions, and the effects of the injuries on his ability to function. The treatment costs are a direct result of the collision and are compensable. The value of his physical injuries, and the effects they have on his life can be established through the chart notes of his various health care providers.
Psychological or emotional damages are common following a motor vehicle collision. Examples of emotional damages include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, restlessness, sleep deprivation, anger and irritability. However, these injuries are often overlooked by both medical providers and injured parties during treatment. It is not enough to simply tell the insurance company that you experienced any of these symptoms following an accident. Operating in a “proof-versus-truth” system, insurance companies will generally not acknowledge nor consider your emotional damages without the corresponding documentation. You need to prove these truths. These symptoms may increase the value of your case, but it is important to know that if you are experiencing these types of effects, it is best to consult with your doctors in order to treat and document these symptoms. Attorneys who focus on injury cases understand the nuances and strategic moves necessary to provide sufficient admissible evidence to prove the emotional impact of a collision.
Example: Tyler is rear-ended by another driver at a stop light. Police are called to the scene, and Tyler is transported to the emergency room via ambulance to Sacred Heart Hospital. Tyler receives emergency care and is referred to his primary care physician for follow-up care after he is discharged. Tyler presents for follow-up care with his physician, and complains of heightened stress, anxiety and sleep disturbances following the accident. His anxiety when riding in a car is affecting his ability to leave his house. Tyler is referred for behavioral counseling to address these fears and learn new coping skills. He is diagnoses with a mild case of situational anxiety caused by the collision. The attorney now has the medical documentation to submit a claim for mental and emotional damages resulting from the accident. These costs are a direct result of the collision and are compensable under Washington law.
Pain and Suffering – General Damages
Pain and suffering, and effects on life – part of the general damages of a case. They are, however, a difficult type of injury to prove to an insurance company or to a jury in Court. The most prevalent evidence of pain and suffering is the testimony of the injured person. However, testimony that suggest a financial benefit to the person providing the testimony is considered the least credible type of evidence that can be presented. Without further evidence that a person is experiencing physical pain or discomfort, a claim for general damages can actually be dismissed out of Court. It is necessary to provide evidence of pain and discomfort through careful review of the medical records and chart notes, as well as the testimony of objective witnesses who can attest to the appearance of pain and discomfort of an injured person. Testimony by way of Declaration, Affidavit or sworn testimony under oath are frequently used by attorneys to provide supporting evidence of an injured person’s physical pain and suffering. Testimony from treating physicians or expert witnesses who are familiar with the nature and extent of particular physical injuries are well equipped to testify as to the likely level of pain and discomfort a person may experience.
Example: Tyler is an avid amateur marathon runner. His passion is running and his competitive nature has driven him to increase his pace to the point he is considered very competitive in his age group. Unfortunately, he is rear-ended by another driver at a stop light. Police are called to the scene, and Tyler is transported to the emergency room via ambulance to Sacred Heart Hospital. Tyler receives emergency care and is referred for physical therapy and chiropractic treatment. Tyler undergoes physical therapy and chiropractic care over the next 6 months. His doctors recommend that he avoid sports that have high joint-impact (like running) during the course of his treatment. Moreover, because Tyler is a father of an active 10-year old, he misses out on the ability to play soccer with his son – an activity they did together weekly prior to the collision. Tyler is upset that his injuries and treatment have interfered with his marathon training and has affected his life and relationship with his son. He feels a great loss of enjoyment of life caused by the physical injuries. These effects upon his life are a direct result of the collision and are compensable in Washington – if proven. A good attorney understands what it takes to prove these types of effects on his life.
Loss of Wages
In the State of Washington, you may recover your lost wages caused by an injury if you can provide 2 collaborating documents to prove your losses: 1) a doctor’s work-release note medically excusing you from work due to your inability to perform your job duties. This is needed to show that you were physically unable to work due to the accident-related injury; and 2) documentation – usually from the employer – that verifies the specific time missed from work due to the injury, and your pay rate. This is needed to calculate the accurate amount of lost wages.
It is important to understand that claimants are not allowed recover income lost to seek treatment – only time lost due to an inability to work due to their injuries. If an injured party leaves work an hour early for a medical appointment, that 1 hour of lost income is generally not recoverable. Under Washington State law, the injured party was considered physically able to work but elected to miss work to go to a doctor during their work hours. It is crucial for your insurance claim that if you are unable to work due to injury, you request updated medical notes from your attending physician and maintain contact with your employer.
Example: Tyler is rear-ended by another driver at a stop light. Police are called to the scene, and Tyler is transported to the emergency room via ambulance to Sacred Heart Hospital. Tyler receives emergency care, is referred for follow-up care. His doctor diagnoses him with neck and back sprains. Tyler tells his doctor that he works in a warehouse at Amazon and performs heavy lifting as part of his regular job. His doctor recommends that he not lift anything over 5 pounds for the following week, and writes a medical note indicating Tyler should be excused from work for the next 5 days due to his injury. Tyler’s employer signs a Declaration identifying that Tyler missed work for the 5 days following the collision, and identifies his pay rate and the total number of hours he missed. Tyler has the documentation necessary to claim a loss of wages as a result of the collision.
Loss of Earning Capacity & Future Medical Care
Loss of Earning Capacity is a complicated type of damages. It is based upon the premise that the injuries sustained result in a loss of the ability to earn income at the level or rate the persona was capable of earning prior to the injury. It is a type of “future damages.” Other types of future damages include a claim for future lost wages – such as income lost due to an inability to work during the recovery period after a surgery that will occur in the future – or the cost of a surgery that must be undertaken at some point in the future. These types of damages are very difficult to prove, and require substantial documentation from your attending physicians recommending future care, and/or that your injuries will prevent you from earning some or all of your normal wages moving forward. It is not uncommon that these claims require verification by outside experts and economists to calculate accurate figures. These types of claims typically occur when the injuries sustained are severe enough to cause the claimant to leave their current job or be deemed medically disabled due to their injuries.
Example: Tyler is rear-ended by another driver at a stop light. Police are called to the scene, and Tyler is transported to the emergency room via ambulance to Sacred Heart Hospital. Tyler receives follow-up care and is ultimately referred for an MRI on his low back. The results reveal that Tyler will need a low back microdiscectomy in order to stabilize his spine. Tyler has no health insurance, and has not yet had the surgery. His treating physicians and an outside orthopedic neurosurgeon will testify that Tyler will have to have the surgery within the next couple of years to avoid losing the function of his legs in the future. the cost of surgery and time Tyler will miss due to the surgery are a direct result of the collision and are compensable.
If you or someone you know suffered a personal injury due to the negligence of someone else, you may entitled to a recovery. Contact us today for a free consultation.