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How Are Damages Assessed in a Personal Injury Case?

May 18, 2022

If you’ve been injured in an accident that was someone else’s fault, you deserve fair compensation to cover your physical, emotional, and financial losses. These losses are referred to as “damages,” and they are entirely unique to you and your situation.

Insurance companies routinely do anything they can to delay, devalue, or deny valid claims. An experienced attorney can calculate the true value of your damages and fight for the maximum compensation you need to get back on track after an injury.

The Chicago personal injury lawyers at Coplan + Crane know the tactics used by insurance companies. We aren’t intimidated by these big companies or their vast legal teams and we don’t back down from a fight. If you were hurt because of someone else’s negligence, it is in your best interest to contact our office right away.

Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages

There are two main types of damages in personal injury cases: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are available in every case, while punitive damages are only available in certain limited circumstances.

Compensatory damages are intended to compensate accident victims for their losses. In other words, these damages are designed to replace what you have lost (and will lose in the future), or to “make you whole.” In a typical personal injury case, available compensatory damages will include:

  • Medical bills
  • Prescription and medical supply costs
  • Other out-of-pocket expenses
  • Lost earnings
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Emotional trauma
  • Pain and suffering
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Loss of companionship and consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

Punitive damages, in contrast, are intended to punish individuals and companies that engage in particularly egregious conduct. Section 2-1115.05(b) of the Illinois Compiled Statutes states that in order to recover punitive damages, an accident victim must be able to prove that the at-fault party acted, “with evil motive or with a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and with a conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others.” Intentional violent conduct and driving under the influence (DUI) are two examples of conduct that may justify a claim for punitive damages. 

Assessing Compensatory Damages in a Personal Injury Case

Compensatory damages in personal injury cases fall into two categories: economic and non-economic. Damages in each category are assessed differently. 

Economic damages are assessed by calculating accident victims’ financial costs to date and forecasting their financial costs in the future. This begins with collecting and reviewing victims’ medical records, employment records, and account statements. It is important that all relevant costs are included, as accident victims generally don’t get a second chance to seek just compensation. 

Forecasting an accident victim’s future economic damages requires both medical and financial expertise. As a result, personal injury lawyers often work closely with doctors and financial planners who specialize in assessing traumatic accident victims’ needs and losses. With a clear understanding of the long-term effects of an accident victim’s injuries, it is possible to reasonably assess the out-of-pocket costs he or she is likely to incur. 

Non-economic damages are assessed in two primary ways. One option is the “per diem” method. With this method, the victim’s personal injury lawyer works with experts to determine a reasonable daily compensation rate for the victim’s pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other losses. This daily compensation rate is then multiplied by the number of days the victim is likely to experience these losses—which could range from several months to the rest of the victim’s life. 

The other option is the “multiplier” method. With this method, the victim’s economic damages are multiplied by a number that is determined based on the severity and expected duration of the victim’s non-economic losses. In most cases, this multiplier is between 1 and 5, but a different multiplier may be warranted in some cases. 

Assessing Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case

When punitive damages are available in a personal injury case, the amount of damages awarded is based on four main factors. First, the Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions instruct jurors to consider three questions:

  • How reprehensible was the at-fault party’s conduct? 
  • What actual and potential harm did the at-fault party’s conduct cause to the victim? 
  • What amount of money is necessary to punish the at-fault party and discourage it from engaging in similar conduct in the future? 

Second, regardless of the amount of punitive damages jurors assess, these damages are subject to a cap under Illinois law. Section 2-1115.05(a) of the Illinois Compiled Statutes proves that, “[t]he amount of punitive damages that may be awarded . . . shall not exceed 3 times the amount awarded . . . for the economic damages on which such claim is based.”

Speak With a Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer for Free

To learn how a personal injury lawyer can help you pursue the full and fair compensation to which you may be entitled under the law, call Coplan + Crane today for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys will listen to your story and explain your rights and legal options.

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To speak with a Chicago personal injury lawyer today, contact us online or at (708) 358-8080. We serve clients in Chicago, Oak Park, Rockford, and other areas in Illinois.