As everyone who lives in a modern society knows, health care can be very expensive. Even if you have medical insurance or good medical coverage through an auto insurance policy, you may be charged thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a lengthy hospital stay, a trip to a specialized care center or repeated doctor visits and physical therapy appointments. If you do not have medical insurance, these costs can quickly reach into five or six figures. For someone who has suffered a catastrophic injury or a permanent disability, lifelong medical treatment can cost millions of dollars.
In a personal injury claim, these medical expenses are part of the damages (financial compensation) you are entitled to claim. This is not limited to direct health care costs, but may extend to any medical expense, including prescriptions, medical devices and the cost of transportation to and from your doctor’s office. Recovering your medical expenses is an essential element of your personal injury claim.
If your case involves a catastrophic injury, your lawyer will want to not only determine your existing medical costs, but also hire medical experts to determine the likely cost of your future medical treatment. In some cases, your law firm may need to hire an expert to develop a “life care plan” that predicts all of your future medical needs. This expert will evaluate your injuries, review your medical records and project the cost of future medical care.
If you are unable to work because of your injuries, you are entitled to claim the income you lose. In addition, if you have a disability that affects your future earning potential, you are also entitled to recover monetary damages for loss of the income you would otherwise have earned.
For example, let us say that you can no longer do the specific job you had at the time of the accident, but you find a job within your physical limitations that pays less than your previous job. In this case, you would be entitled to recover not only the income you lost from the old job, but also any future income you lose because you had to take the lower-paying job. If you are self-employed and your injury makes you unable to do your job, you may need to hire someone to replace you. You may be entitled to compensation for the extra money you pay to that person during your recovery.
In addition to your lost income and loss of future earning capacity, you may be entitled to recover any loss of benefits, such as health insurance, pension plans, bonuses or other benefits directly associated with your employment. An experienced personal injury lawyer will help you determine all of your financial losses so you can seek compensation for those losses. Your lawyer may need to hire experts, such as a vocational expert (an expert in work) or an economist. These experts will review your financial and medical records, then calculate and predict the economic losses you have suffered from the accident. If you are self-employed, you can prove your economic losses through tax returns and other business documents.
Pain and Suffering Damages
Another part of your personal injury claim is the way your injuries affect your daily life — your pain and suffering. Personal injury victims are entitled to recover damages for past and present suffering as well as any suffering they may experience in the future. These damages for pain and suffering are different types of damages from those you would claim for your economic losses or physical injuries. For example, someone who suffers chronic pain after an injury is entitled to be compensated for that pain and suffering.
Pain and suffering are not the same. Physical pain is a sensation and suffering is a mood. Pain is the awareness, through a stimulus in the brain, or something that could damage your tissues and is followed by a feeling of discomfort or unpleasantness. By contrast, suffering is an emotion that could be considered the opposite of happiness or enjoyment, and involves cognitive awareness of an unpleasant situation, or a lack of the pleasure the victim could have expected had it not been for the accident. Suffering could involve many emotions, including depression, anxiety and humiliation. For example, suffering could be embarrassment and anxiety from a disfiguring facial injury, an amputation, incontinence, paralysis or another injury that severely limits the victim’s life activities.
It is the job of an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you prove specifically how your injuries have affected your life and your family. The ultimate goal of a personal injury claim is to obtain the maximum possible compensation, so you may return to your life as it was before the accident. Although injuries make that impossible in some cases, you are entitled to seek compensation for every injury you suffer. It is the goal of a personal injury lawyer to help you obtain the fullest and fairest compensation permitted by the law.
Loss of Consortium
In many states, the law allows the spouse of an injured person to recover damages as well, even if the spouse was not injured. This is called a loss of consortium claim.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “consortium” as the “conjugal fellowship of husband and wife, and the right of each to the company, society, and cooperation, affection and aid of the other in every conjugal relation.” Loss of consortium includes not only material services that you may lose because of a spouse’s injury, but such intangibles as society, guidance, companionship and sexual relations. Usually, you may only make a loss of consortium claim when one spouse has been seriously injured, and that injury has had a direct negative effect on the marital relationship. Generally, you cannot make a loss of consortium claim if you are merely living with the injured person. A marital relationship is essential to making a loss of consortium claim.
Often, the non-injured spouse, at the direction of an experienced personal injury lawyer, can present compelling testimony at trial. This helps convince a jury that an accident has affected not only the marital relationship, but also the family. Juries can sometimes empathize with the spouse who was not injured and better appreciate how the injuries have affected the marriage and the family. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you determine whether you should add a loss of consortium claim to your personal injury claim.