How Are Damages Determined In A Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Published on:January 11, 2017
personal injury damages

When a personal injury lawsuit goes in favor of the plaintiff in the movies or on television, there is an immediate celebration in the courtroom and the next scene shows the plaintiff putting their winnings to good use. In real life, personal injury awards don’t always work like that and it can be difficult to get your money even if you win your suit. It is important to understand how damages are determined before you file your personal injury lawsuit.


In just about every state, a personal injury lawsuit is considered a compensatory action because it is intended to try and compensate the plaintiff for an event that has taken place. Compensatory damages are usually very straightforward and can be easy for the court to calculate. These types of damages include:

  • Pain and Suffering – Most people forget that pain and suffering are compensatory damages, but they are. The court decides if and how much you should be compensated for pain and suffering you received as an immediate result of the accident, and pain and suffering you will suffer for the coming years.
  • Earning Capacity – The court decides if you are entitled to income you have lost and income you will lose as a result of the accident.
  • Property Replacement Costs – Any property of yours that was damaged (For example, your car in a car accident) will be part of your compensation.
  • Medical Bills – All current and future medical bills relating to your treatment and rehabilitation are part of your award.
  • Quality Of Life – If you are a musician and an accident prevents you from pursuing music as a hobby, then you could be compensated for that.
  • Emotional Damage – In more serious accidents, the amount of emotional distress you are caused can become part of your financial award.
  • Lifestyle Changes – If an accident affects your relationship with your spouse or affects the way you are able to interact with people in a negative way, then you could be compensated for that.


While every state allows the ability for a court to award punitive damages, it is unusual to find a court in any state that makes a habit of it. If the court finds that the defendant was especially cruel or careless in their actions associated with the accident, then the court may award the plaintiff punitive damages. It is a judgment call, and many states have caps on how much can be awarded.

Determining Negligence

In most states, if you are found to be 20 percent at fault for the accident you were in, then you would only get 80 percent of the award. This is called comparative negligence, and it is used in just about every personal injury lawsuit. In some states, you would not get any award at all if you are found to have any negligence in the case. This is called contributory negligence, and it does exist in a handful of states.

When lawyers refer to damages in a personal injury lawsuit, they are talking about the amount of money the court awards the plaintiff. Each state has its own personal injury laws, but there are some general conditions everyone should be aware of before they file their own lawsuit.