Filing a personal injury or wrongful death suit cannot undo the harm or loss you experienced, but it can help you pursue a sense of justice and the financial compensation you need to move forward. If you win your case, you’ll be awarded damages. While there are three different types of damages that you can recover, today we will focus on one of the most misunderstood ones: special damages.
The 3 Types of Damages
To fully understand special damages, it’s important to know the three types of damages and what they cover.
The three types of damages include the following:
- General Damages - Covers the cost of intangible losses, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of companionship, and reduced quality of life. Determining general damages is often complex, as it requires you to place a dollar value on something highly subjective. These are often referred to as “economic” damages.
- Special Damages - Covers the cost of tangible losses, such as hospital bills or lost wages. When people read the definition of special damages, they are often misled into believing that these damages will be easy to calculate. While it may be easy to add up hospital bills and lost earnings, the calculation is complicated when you try to anticipate future care costs and lost earning potential. These are often referred to as “non-economic” damages.
- Punitive Damages - Also known as exemplary damages, these result from particularly negligent or willfully harmful actions. Punitive damages are rarely awarded, but the court may use this third type of damage as punishment when the defendant intentionally caused harm.
Damages are further categorized as well. General and special damages are both considered compensatory damages because they are meant to cover the cost of the injury or death. In contrast, punitive damages are meant to, hopefully, deter future harm by punishing the defendant beyond the cost of compensatory damages.
For a more in-depth discussion about compensatory versus punitive damages, please read our blog, Difference Between Compensatory & Punitive Damages.
What Is Covered by Special Damages?
Special damages are meant to compensate for the financial losses you suffer after an injury.
Special damages cover things such as:
- Hospital bills
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Future medical care
- Lost earning capacity
It is easy to place a value on the first three items on that list because those expenses already happened. When it comes to future medical care or lost earning capacity, it is easy for your claim to be undervalued. That’s why your choice of a personal injury attorney is crucial. The right attorney will take every step necessary to make sure your compensation will cover any long-term care or decreased earning potential that you will experience.
What Is the Purpose of Special Damages?
The purpose of special damages is to help the plaintiff get back to a similar financial position as they would have been if they had not been injured. They are meant to help a person rebuild by replacing quantifiable financial losses, such as medical bills and lost wages. Every person will experience different financial losses after an accident or injury; special damages are named thus because they are unique to each plaintiff.
What Do Special Damages Compensate For?
Special damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for the losses they have suffered because of the defendant’s conduct. These may include any out-of-pocket expenses associated with the plaintiff’s injuries or the incident itself, ranging from property damage to medical care to lost earnings. Future costs should also be considered when calculating special damages, as these can also be attributed to the defendant’s behavior (such as an act of negligence, carelessness, or even intentional misconduct). To accurately calculate special damages, all of these costs must be added together.
What Is an Example of Special Damages?
Special damages will vary considerably from case to case. In many cases, medical care will account for the main portion of special damages, but lost earnings (particularly potential earnings) can add up quickly as well.
Here is a basic example of how special damages may look in a car accident case:
- Hospital bills: $50,000
- Chiropractic care: $5,000
- Medication and medical supplies: $2,000
- Transportation to and from medical appointments: $1,000
- Follow-up medical appointments: $3,000
- Physical therapy: $10,000
- Lost wages while injured and recovering: $30,000
- Lost wages for follow-up appointments and therapy: $5,000
- Total: $106,000
The above are made-up numbers for this blog, but they offer insight into a few of the categories that may be considered for special damages. Compensation for special damages alone could add up to a considerable amount of money, usually depending on the severity of injuries and the ongoing impact they may have on a person’s life.
Who Is Held Accountable for Paying Special Damages?
Special damages should be paid by the party (or parties) who caused the plaintiff harm. In many cases, damages are paid by the at-fault party’s insurance company, but we will consider all potential sources when seeking compensation for a client. A driver who causes an auto accident, a trucking company that pressures its drivers into skipping breaks, a doctor who makes a critical error during surgery, or a property owner that fails to maintain safe grounds are all examples of parties that could be held liable for the payment of special damages to a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit.
Are Punitive Damages Special Damages?
No. Special damages assign a monetary value to tangible losses while determining punitive damages is more subjective. Special damages are tied to the harm caused by the defendant, while punitive damages are awarded in situations where the court wants to make an example of the defendant.
A few examples of punitive damages won by Arnold & Itkin:
- $8 billion verdict won against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Despite having scientific data that showed that their medication, Risperdal, caused gynecomastia in young boys, Johnson & Johnson chose to withhold that information and marketed the drug off-label to children. Because they willfully chose to put profits before the safety of the young boys that they sold their drug to, the court decided that punitive damages were appropriate. On the other hand, special damages would seek to cover the financial losses that our client suffered from gynecomastia.
- $44 million verdict won for an amputee victim, which included $8.5 million in punitive damages. Our client, a construction superintendent, sustained catastrophic injuries in a crane accident. Berkel & Company prioritized finishing a drilling project quickly over our client’s safety, which eventually led to a crane collapse. Because standard safety practices were violated in the name of efficiency, punitive damages were awarded. The verdict also included special damages, which covered the medical expenses and loss of earning capacity our client incurred.
Can I Be Awarded Different Types of Damages?
Yes. Because each damage aims to compensate the plaintiff for different types of loss, it’s possible to be awarded multiple types. After an accident, you deserve to be compensated for all suffering you experience, whether mental anguish or medical bills. However, one thing to note is that punitive damages are reserved for cases where the defendant intentionally caused harm. Only about 5% of verdicts include punitive damages.
You Need the Right Attorney. No Matter What.
After someone’s negligent or reckless behavior left you injured, you need a personal injury attorney who will fight for what you need now and what you will need in the future. Even though special damages are tied to monetary losses, that doesn’t mean that their calculation is less subjective than general damages.
The nationally recognized personal injury lawyers at Arnold & Itkin have a reputation for getting clients the compensation they need for the rest of their lives. No matter what. Time and time again, we have seen the same circumstances—whether it is a plant explosion, offshore disaster, or truck accident—yield vastly different compensation. When we take your case, we take it personally. We won’t settle for less than you deserve, and we will go above and beyond in our efforts to help you fight to maximize your recovery.
If you want to know more about the damages you might be able to recover, watch What Is My Case Worth? in our video center or call (888) 493-1629 to discuss your situation in a 100% free case review.