How Are Damages Assessed in a Personal Injury Case in Texas?
The goal in a personal injury case is primarily to address what wrongs the victim suffered and correct them. In some lawsuits, the goal is to change an action or stop the defendant from doing something, but in personal injury cases, the primary goal is to award the victim compensation. The compensation – the “damages” – in the case have to be decided on before the court can award them.
When assessing damages, courts look at the results of the accident and the injury. Courts have the power to address not only the cost of medical care and lost wages but also other economic harm the victim suffered as well as non-economic effects like pain and suffering. Sometimes, assessing damages is as simple as adding up all the costs the victim faced, but cases involving future damages are more complex.
Talk to a lawyer for help calculating damages in your case. It is important to have an experienced lawyer on your side to help prove how much your injuries cost and how much you deserve in compensation. For a free legal consultation on your case, call The Queenan Law Firm’s Arlington personal injury attorneys today. Our number is (817) 476-1797.
Types of Damages in Texas Personal Injury Cases
The different “types” of damages can be split up in various ways. One of the most common ways of dividing damages is into “compensatory damages” and “non-compensatory damages.” The distinction here is that compensatory damages are meant to pay you back for the effects you suffered (e.g., medical bills), while non-compensatory damages refer to any additional damages ordered as a penalty against the at-fault party (e.g., punitive damages – sometimes known as “exemplary damages”).
Damages can also be divided based on whether they are paid to cover economic harms or non-economic harms. Economic damages refer to damages for things that have a price tag attached to them. This includes damages such as car repairs, hospital bills, lost wages, and therapy bills. Non-economic damages cover the harms that do not have a price tag attached to them, such as the damages paid for mental anguish, pain and suffering, or loss of a loved one.
Damages can also be broken down based on the timing of the damages. Past damages – e.g., the cost of medical care you already received, the wages you already lost at work – are often simple enough to calculate. This usually requires simply tracking down all the bills and expenses you’ve already faced because of your injury and adding up the totals. Projecting future damages can be more difficult. This usually requires help from a doctor to project what future medical care will be needed and potentially help from economic experts to calculate how much you will miss out on in future wages and other damages. Even though these damages have not happened yet, they are still caused by the accident, and courts can often award you compensation even for these future expenses.
Main Areas of Compensation for Injury Claims in Texas
Most injury victims face damages in three main areas: medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. These three areas of damages make up the majority of the damages in any case, but victims do also tend to claim other damages for property damages suffered in the accident along with their injuries. It also may be possible to claim punitive damages – which fall under the category of “non-compensatory damages” and typically use the name “exemplary damages” in Texas.
As mentioned, medical bills are considered economic damages and are paid to compensate victims for bills they already faced – and sometimes future expenses as well. Although the term “medical” is used here, you can get compensation for psychiatric care and mental health therapy as well as physical health care.
Compensation for medical bills tends to include compensation for actual services rendered – such as surgeries, X-rays, and therapy – but it can also include compensation for care-related costs – such as the cost of crutches, medical transportation, hospital stays, and medication.
Talk to a Fort Worth personal injury lawyer for help understanding where the boundaries are on what can be compensated as medical bills and how to calculate the cost of projected future medical care costs.
If you have to miss work while recovering from an injury, the person who caused the injuries is responsible for that. That means that the defendant should have to pay for your lost wages even if the injury had nothing to do with your job. Many economic damages deal with the money you lose out on rather than the money you had to spend.
Lost wages can also refer to future wages you will miss if you cannot go back to work. Some injury victims find themselves unable to return to work in their previous capacity, often taking lower-paying jobs with less demanding job tasks. Others are totally disabled by accidents and cannot work anymore. These future lost wages or a future reduction in wages can be compensated as well. These “lost earning capacity” damages can be calculated by projecting how much longer you would have worked in your lifetime based on health and age and what wages (and potential raises) you would have continued to experience. Then, the court subtracts out what you are projected to earn post-injury and calculates the present value of that future money.
This can become a complex economic calculation, and many victims end up hiring expert witnesses to explain their lost earning capacity damages to a court.
Pain and Suffering
“Pain and suffering” is usually used as an umbrella term to cover many different types of non-economic damages. Typically, courts consider things like the physical and mental experiences the victim faced and attempt to assign a dollar value to them to compensate victims for pain and suffering damages. They may also look at other experiences, such as the embarrassment of the accident, the fear of further injury, and the effect the injury has on your enjoyment of life and various life activities. For example, an avid bike rider who becomes paralyzed in a bike accident might get damages because they cannot ride a bike anymore and because they experience PTSD symptoms because of the crash.
“Emotional distress” is a separate type of non-economic damages that is often lumped into pain and suffering, and the distinction is not always important. What is important is understanding that your suffering and the experiences you face because of a crash can often be compensated, even when they are internal issues that might be difficult to show or explain to other people.
Except for slip and fall injuries and other premises liability injuries, accidents tend to involve damages to personal property as well as the person. If you were hurt in a car crash, you could face thousands of dollars in vehicle repair costs that you cannot afford out of pocket. Even if you can afford the cost of repairing or replacing damaged property, you should not be on the hook for those costs if the damage was caused by someone else.
Getting compensation for property damage is often a secondary consideration after damages related to your injury, but it is also something personal injury attorneys commonly help with. Typically, damages can be paid to cover vehicle damage during a crash; the cost of a defective product that injured you; harm to your cell phone, glasses, or other personal items damaged during an accident; and other damages to your property.
Texas leans toward using the term “exemplary damages,” but most people refer to these damages as “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are ordered by a court to punish the defendant for doing something wrong rather than to compensate the victim for harm. Punitive damages can be awarded in cases where the defendant did something exceptionally bad to cause your injuries or where the defendant has a history of causing similar harm. Often, punitive damages are awarded against large companies and other entities that cause widespread harm or who fail to correct their issues after previous rulings against them.
Punitive damages are not awarded in every case, and you have to typically prove fraud, gross negligence, or “malice” to get these damages under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 41.003. There are also other limitations on exemplary damages, such as a higher evidentiary standard (known as “clear and convincing evidence”), a unanimous jury verdict, and proper jury instructions. There are also caps on punitive damages under § 41.008 of the same chapter of the Texas Code, but those caps can be ignored if the injury resulted from certain felony offenses.
Assigning Damages to Different Parties in Texas Injury Lawsuits
One important aspect of how courts assess damages is whom they assess damages against. Courts only assess damages against individuals or entities who were parties to the lawsuit; if you leave someone out, the court can’t order them to pay damages. However, you can sue multiple parties, and the court might divide damages among them.
Joint, Several, and Joint and Several Liability
There are three ways of judging liability that might affect whether and how damages are divided in your case. First, there is “joint liability,” where more than one party could be fully responsible for the damages, and you can go after either party. Second, there is “several liability” (commonly known as “proportional liability”), where each party is responsible for their fair share of the damages. Third, there is “joint and several liability,” where more than one party is responsible, but it is up to them (not the victim) to determine who pays which share (usually by suing each other afterward for “contribution”).
Assigning Damages to Multiple Parties
These structures can be complex and hard to understand, even for people in the legal field. What is most important to understand is that you can often sue multiple parties for injuries, and the court can often order payments from them. Typically, with things like car crashes, the courts will assign partial blame to each party, and each defendant will pay their fair share of your damages. So if you are awarded $100,000 for your car accident case and the court finds the other drivers 60% liable and 40% liable, one will pay you $60,000 and the other will pay you $40,000.
Sometimes, liability can be assigned to a party whose direct actions might not have been involved in the case. One of the best examples of this is in lawsuits involving companies and corporations, where the corporation as an entity didn’t necessarily “do” anything, but one of its workers did. This covers situations where a grocery store worker fails to mop up a spill, so you sue the store – or situation where a truck driver causes a crash, so you sue the trucking company.
Typically, this is allowed under a rule known as “respondeat superior,” which allows you to sue an employer for their employee’s mistakes. In some cases, you can also sue the employer for its own mistakes – such as negligently hiring the employee, failing to fire the employee after bad conduct in the past, or policies and practices that limited the employee’s ability to keep you safe.
Sometimes the defendant holds the majority of the fault in causing an injury, but the victim might have done something bad as well that helped contribute to the accident. For example, if you made a rolling stop at a four-way stop, but another driver from the cross street hit you going 80 in a 40-mph zone without stopping at all, they are likely at fault. Still, the fact that you did not make a complete stop could have contributed to the crash.
Defendants often try to shift blame back to the victim and claim they actually caused the accident. Fortunately, victims can still get damages unless they were more than 50% at fault. However, their damages will be reduced by their share of the blame. For example, if the court finds you 10% at fault for making a rolling stop and the damages were $100,000, the defendant will pay only $90,000 and you will be responsible for the other $10,000 out of pocket. Talk to a lawyer for help fighting these kinds of defenses and putting all the blame squarely on the at-fault parties.
Call Our Texas Personal Injury Lawyer for Help with Your Injury Case
If you or a loved one was involved in an accident in Texas and needs help claiming damages, call The Queenan Law Firm’s Dallas personal injury attorneys at (817) 476-1797.