Special and General Damages in Car Accident Cases

If you’re hurt in a car accident, any settlement or court award will usually include two main types of compensation.

If you're involved in a car accident, there's a good chance you've incurred losses of some kind, financial or otherwise. These losses are known as "damages" in legalese, and they usually fall into one of two main buckets:

  • Special damages are those that are meant to compensate you for the financial harm you suffered and the out-of-pocket losses you incurred as a result of the accident.
  • General damages include non-financial losses that aren't as easy to prove, but which still have a clear connection to—and came as a result of—the car accident.
  • Getting a fair settlement means capturing all of the effects of the accident and proving the nature and extent of each one.

What Are Special Damages In Car Accident Cases?

Special damages (also known as "economic" damages) are the kinds of direct losses that are usually fairly easy to identify and calculate after a car accident. Examples of special damages in a typical car accident case include:

  • past and future medical bills
  • past and future lost income
  • property damage, such as the actual cash value of a totaled vehicle, and
  • expenses incurred to hire someone to take care of tasks the injured individual can't perform due to the accident

Most of these losses are usually easily calculated. For example, you'll have a bill from your doctor, the landscaper, or your health insurance company showing how much money you had to pay for services made necessary because of your accident.

But sometimes, special damages can be difficult to calculate. This might happen when trying to determine how much money you would have made in the future if you never got into the accident. For instance, how do you calculate how much less money a construction worker will learn because he lost two fingers in a car accident? Or how can you know what your future medical bills will be when your current doctor can only estimate how much more physical therapy you'll need?

In these situations, a car accident lawyer will hire an economic/financial expert witness who can prepare a report and testify on issues like future earnings.

What Are General Damages In a Car Accident Case?

General damages (often called "non-economic" damages) have a definite connection between your injuries and the at-fault driver's negligence in causing your car accident. But despite their clear connection to the accident, general damages are often hard to calculate.

For instance, if the other driver's fault for the car accident caused you to suffer a broken foot, it's expected that there will be some pain associated with that injury, and with the medical care necessary to treat it. But how much money should you receive for the broken foot, above and beyond the cost of treating it?

There's no easy way to answer this question, as it depends on factors like:

  • where the bone break took place
  • the existence of any complications when treating the broken bone
  • the severity of the bone break
  • how long it takes to heal from this type of injury

In addition to physical pain and suffering, other types of general damages may include:

  • physical disfigurement, like a lost limb or scarring
  • temporary or permanent disability
  • emotional pain and suffering
  • loss of companionship
  • effect on quality of life

As you can imagine, these aren't the easiest damages to prove or calculate. Learn more about how pain and suffering is shown in a car accident case.

Getting Fair Compensation After a Car Accident

An experienced car accident lawyer will know how much your car accident case could be worth, and will put together the best evidence to prove each element of your damages claim, so that you can get the best result.

Whether you need to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover your general or special damages you're entitled to, or you're trying to get a fair injury settlement out of the other driver's car insurance company, an attorney's legal expertise can make all the difference. Learn more about when you need a lawyer for your car accident case.

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