Filing a personal injury claim means assessing the damages you suffered from your injuries, especially the tangible, financial expenses you faced. Your personal injury claim helps you seek compensation for your losses. Usually, personal injury claims get divided into two areas: special damages and general damages.
What Are Special Damages and General Damages?
Special damages include the tangible financial losses that you can easily calculate following an accident caused by another party’s negligence. In requiring the liable party to replace the funds the victim must spend due to his injuries, the court hopes to place the victim in the same place, financially, that he would have remained had he not suffered injuries in the accident.
General damages, on the other hand, include more intangible damages, including both physical and emotional pain and suffering you might face after your accident. These damages may prove more difficult to calculate directly, since you do not have an actual financial amount assigned to those losses.
What Should You Include Under Special Damages in Your Personal Injury Claim?
Talk to an attorney about the special damages you should include in your personal injury claim, since you may face unique losses or have unique circumstances that can change the damages you actually need to claim. Most special damages, however, fall into familiar categories.
In most personal injury claims, your medical costs will make up the foundation of your claim. Depending on the severity of your injuries, you may have substantial medical bills resulting from your accident. Ideally, you should track all your medical bills as they come in following your accident so that you will know exactly what you paid for the various services required to treat your injuries. You can include all medical bills related to your accident, including ways in which the accident may have increased previous conditions, as part of your personal injury claim; however, you should not include unrelated medical expenses.
Emergency medical care. Immediately after your accident, you may need ambulance transport to a hospital. If you believe you did not suffer serious injuries, or do not recognize the severity of your injuries immediately at the time of the accident, go to an urgent care center to evaluate and treat your injuries.
Emergency medical care may include transport to the hospital or urgent care facility and any services you receive in the emergency room or urgent care center: setting a broken limb, performing x-rays, or cleaning out serious wounds, for example. If you have serious injuries, including a complete or near amputation or organ trauma related to your accident, you may require emergency surgery. All those immediate procedures count as part of the emergency care you receive for your injuries.
Hospitalization. Sometimes, accident victims need to stay in the hospital for some time. If you have emergency surgery, for example, you may need to stay in the hospital to receive monitoring and care. Other injuries may require longer hospital stays: For example, if you suffer spinal cord injuries, you may need to remain in the hospital for weeks. Individuals with traumatic brain injury may need to remain in the hospital for monitoring, especially if they fall unconscious and do not wake for some time after the immediate accident.
For each day you spend in the hospital, your medical expenses may increase. Some hospitals may offer discounts for patients who require long-term stays, but many may not have the ability to offer assistance to severely injured patients.
Procedures. Whether you remain in the hospital for a long time after your accident or can return home quickly, you may have to have procedures to take care of your injuries. Broken bones, for example, may require surgery to set them properly. Often, you can go home with broken bones, but will need to return to the hospital several days later, after swelling has decreased, to have the broken bone surgically set and secured.
If you suffered decreased blood flow to a limb following your accident, and the tissue starts to die, you may need to return to the hospital for amputation. Burn victims may require regular cleaning of the wound. Each procedure you receive, whether in or out of the hospital, can mean a separate medical bill.
If you do need procedures to treat your injuries, especially surgery, keep in mind that you may not receive a single bill for each procedure. Rather, each provider who offers care during the procedure may submit a separate bill.
If you remain hospitalized after surgery, for example, you may receive a separate bill for the surgical procedure, but still pay the normal daily rate for a room at the hospital. You may also receive a separate bill from the anesthesiologist or from another specialist who consults on your procedure. Keep track of all medical bills as they come in to ensure that you do not miss a bill related to one of the procedures you received following your accident.
Physical therapy. Following many types of injuries, you may need time to regain strength and flexibility in your limbs. Dedicated physical therapy can make it easier for you to regain that strength and capability. Many types of injuries can require several months of physical therapy. How often you have to attend will depend on your doctor’s recommendations and the types of injuries you suffered.
Occupational therapy. Some types of injuries can permanently change your capability. An occupational therapist can help you learn how to cope with those limitations and care for yourself despite your injuries. If you suffer a spinal cord injury, for example, an occupational therapist can help you learn how to cope with life in a wheelchair and how to use adaptive equipment to cope with your new challenges.
If you suffer a limb amputation, an occupational therapist may help you learn how to perform tasks with one hand or how to use a prosthesis. If you suffer a traumatic brain injury, your occupational therapist may provide you with coping mechanisms that can help you learn how to control your emotions, avoid explosions, and compensate for your missing memory.
Occupational therapy can be long-term or short-term, depending on the limitations created by your injuries and the challenges you face along the way. Some people go through years of occupational therapy, especially as their challenges change. Others may need only a few weeks of occupational therapy to learn how to accommodate their limitations.
Psychological therapy. Some victims suffer severe psychological trauma in addition to the physical trauma associated with their injuries. They may struggle with PTSD or have increased symptoms of depression and anxiety associated with their injuries. Psychological therapy can also help victims cope with the problems they may have with their new limitations. You can include psychological therapy alongside the other types of medical expenses you may face due to your injuries.
Durable medical equipment. The cost of medical equipment can stack up quickly after your accident, especially if you suffered injuries that impacted your mobility. Some accident victims, for example, may need a wheelchair, either temporarily or permanently. If you suffered high tetraplegia as a result of spinal cord damage, you may need an electric wheelchair to get around. An amputee may need prosthetics to improve mobility.
Prosthetics may need replacement every three to five years, so you may expect to have an ongoing expense for those replacements. You may also have ongoing expenses for items like crutches, a hospital bed, or assistive devices that make it easier for you to maintain independence and complete the same tasks you have always performed.
If you suffered serious, lifelong injuries in your accident, your home may no longer fit your needs. Many types of accidents, including amputation or spinal cord injury, may require you to use a wheelchair to get around for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, not all homes have the space needed for effective wheelchair use, and wheelchairs may struggle to get around independently in their homes.
If you must modify your home due to your injury, you may include the cost of those modifications as part of your personal injury claim.
- Wheelchair ramps. Many homes, especially modern homes, rely on steps to get inside. If you suffer serious injuries that have led to paralysis or other mobility challenges, you may no longer have the ability to get up the stairs. Installing a wheelchair ramp can make it easier for you to remain in your home.
- Kitchen modifications. The kitchen represents the heart of many homes, and you want to get around in it just like you did before your accident. If you need to use a wheelchair, however, you may struggle to reach standard countertops or to take items in and out of the oven. You may need to renovate your kitchen to safely cook.
- Widened doorways. Throughout your home, if you have small or standard-sized doorways, you may have trouble getting a wheelchair through them. Widening the doorways can make it easier for you to move through the house independently.
- Bathroom renovations. The bathroom can prove the most difficult room in the house to use after your accident. Many people, for example, may need a higher toilet. Victims who lose mobility and balance due to their injuries may need to install grab bars or use a walk-in shower setup instead of one that requires them to lift a leg to get in. These bathroom renovations can quickly grow very costly.
In addition to the expenses you have to pay out due to your injuries, you may discover that your lost time at work has a significant impact on your finances. While some employers offer sick time or will provide disability while you recover, others may not.
The more time at work you miss, the more difficulty you may face financially.
- Lost work immediately after the accident. Many accident victims simply cannot return to work immediately after the accident. If you have to stay in the hospital, for example, you obviously cannot perform your usual job duties. A combination of pain, limitations from the injuries, and the medications you take to manage your pain while recovering can all leave you unable to go back to work for quite some time after your accident.
- Modified hours due to your injuries. You finally regain the strength to go back to work part-time, but you cannot yet return to your usual hours and responsibilities. Sometimes, your employer may allow you to work a modified schedule while you recover: allowing you to work fewer hours during the day or come in fewer days of the week, for example, so that you can focus on regaining your strength. The longer your recovery drags on, the more hours you may miss.
- Lost time due to procedures and appointments. Most medical appointments, unfortunately, take place during the workday. If you need physical or occupational therapy to recover from your injuries, for example, you may need to make those appointments during your usual workday. Unfortunately, that may mean less time that you can spend taking care of work responsibilities and can lead to reduced wages.
Fortunately, you can claim the time you missed at work and the wages you lost due to your injuries as part of your personal injury claim.
Direct Financial Losses
Depending on the type of accident you suffered and your injuries, you may have obvious financial losses from your accident. Some people, for example, lose the ability to work in their preferred fields due to their injuries, which means they may have grounds to claim lost earning potential. Talk to your attorney about any other financial losses you sustained as a result of your accident.
If you suffered serious injuries in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, an attorney can help you understand your legal right to compensation or calculate your expenses. Contact a personal injury attorney as soon after your accident as possible to learn more about your rights.