What Are Damages in Personal Injury Law?
Like many legal terms, the term “damages” can often be perplexing. Most non-lawyers consider damage to be something that their house may sustain in a storm or that a package may suffer during delivery. In legal terms, damages are related to these common considerations but are more specific. Black’s Law Dictionary defines damages as “pecuniary compensation or indemnity, which may be recovered in the courts by any person who has suffered loss, detriment or injury whether to his person, property or rights through the unlawful act or omission or negligence of another.”
Under Virginia law, there are many types of damages, including actual damages, compensatory damages, consequential damages, future damages, general damages and liquidated damages.
For the purposes of injury law, the main damage groups are divided up into pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. In simple terms, these groups represent the two kinds of loss that an injury victim suffers: out-of-pocket losses versus pain/suffering. The law recognizes that simply paying for medical bills and lost wages is not enough if a person has been injured due to negligence. The focus of many personal injury cases, therefore, becomes not the pecuniary (or “actual” damages which are easy to quantify, but the broader scope of what truly happened to the person. The courts (and therefore insurance companies) recognize that damages which are not truly out-of-pocket can actually be the most substantial damages of all.
Consider for example, a recent client who was nearing his retirement with an engineering firm. His accident left him in the hospital for several days and required months of painful rehabilitation. Even after he recovered, he had substantial surgical scars which were quite embarrassing to him and difficult to cover up.
At trial, our office referenced the law of damages in closing arguments and the court instructed the jury on each of these aspects. At the end of the day, the compensation award for non-pecuniary losses (pain, suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, disfigurement, etc.) dwarfed the medical bills that the client had sustained.
In our personal injury practice, we take pride in focusing on the non-economic damages. We believe that only by coming to know the client’s entire biography, can we fully appreciate the harm that has been done. We frequently interview supervisors, family members, friends, acquaintances, and other associates of the injury victim to learn the impact of the accident on the client’s life. By soliciting this testimony and the various stories we hear, we are able to present a complete picture of our client’s damages with a view to securing the maximum amount of compensation.