When you are involved in a personal injury lawsuit, you are entitled to financial compensation if you win. However, the amount of compensation you are entitled cannot be in one lump sum. Different amounts earmarked for different losses must be requested, depending on the facts of your case. Your attorney should explain what damages you can and cannot request based on what you have been through.
The main category of damages in civil court is referred to as compensatory damages. These are defined as any sum of money awarded to indemnify a plaintiff (if they win their case) against losses incurred by the wrongful conduct of another person. Within this category, regardless of its name, there are two subcategories. Economic damages are damages that can be calculated from documents and records; non-economic damages are the intangibles that must be assessed as estimates.
Economic damages will make up the bulk of any award granted by a jury. In most cases, economic damages are a fairly simple matter for a jury to grasp, given their tangible nature. Sometimes, future expenses can be classified as economic damages even though they are necessarily speculative, but this is because they are still estimated from actual figures. In some states, there are restrictions on economic damage amounts, but in South Carolina, no such restriction currently exists.
Some examples of economic damages are:
- Medical bills (though, if a plaintiff receives compensation for these, they may have to turn over this part of an award to their insurer);
- Lost wages;
- Future medical care costs; and
- Accessibility needs (such as house renovations).
The other category is non-economic damages, and it encompasses everything that cannot be accurately quantified from records. This category of damages is more commonly regulated, given its intangible and subjective nature; most states have caps on non-economic damages, lest juries award amounts that are impossible to enforce. Currently, South Carolina only has a non-economic damage cap on medical malpractice damages, not on those incurred in general personal injury cases.
Some examples of non-economic damages are:
- Pain and suffering;
- Loss of consortium (loss of the benefits of a healthy marital relationship);
- Lost earning capacity; and
- Emotional distress.
It is important to distinguish between economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Punitive damages are assessed only in cases where the defendant’s conduct has been proven to be so negligent or reckless as to constitute malice. They are neither economic nor non-economic; the latter types of damages remedy a loss, while punitive damages are exclusively assessed to punish egregious conduct. There is a cap on punitive damages in South Carolina, however; they may not exceed three times the compensatory damage amount (in other words, the total of the economic and non-economic damages cannot be greater than one-third of the punitive award).
A Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
If you engage the services of a qualified personal injury attorney, you may have a greater chance at a larger award than if you attempted to go it alone. Callihan & Syracuse has handled countless personal injury cases, and our professionals are happy to assist you with yours. Contact our North Charleston office today for a free initial consultation.