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Establishing damages is a vital part of a negligence claim. Without it, the case cannot succeed. In every negligence claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, their breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s harm, and as a result of the defendant’s breach, the plaintiff did suffer damages. After establishing these elements, the plaintiff is entitled to monetary compensation. 

Understanding Damages

In negligence actions, damages represent the financial compensation sought by a plaintiff for the harm they’ve suffered due to another party’s negligence. The purpose of damages is to make a plaintiff whole again. Thus, a plaintiff can’t recover just to recover – the purpose of the damages is to make the plaintiff whole (i.e., the same as their pre-injury self). There are three general types of damages – compensatory, punitive, and nominal. 

The Three Types Of Damages

The first type of damages a plaintiff in a negligence action can recover are compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are categorized into two types – special and general damages. Special damages are specific monetary losses, such as medical expenses, property damages, and lost wages. General damages are less tangible than special damages, but provide similar compensation to an injured plaintiff. General damages are damages to compensate for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. 

The second type is punitive damages. As a lawyer, like a personal injury lawyer, understands, punitive damages are aimed at punishing the defendant for their egregious conduct and at deterring future behavior of others. Courts only award punitive damages when the defendant’s actions are willful, wanton, or malicious. While assessing the amount of punitive damages, courts must balance the desire to discourage similar reckless behavior while ensuring that the punishment is proportionate to the wrongdoing. 

The third type is nominal damages. Nominal damages are awarded when the plaintiff has shown that he or she has suffered harm but is unable to quantify the damages. Effectively, nominal damages acknowledge that the plaintiff was injured, but do not require extensive proof of the monetary loss. 

Mitigating Damages

Regardless of the type of damages that a plaintiff suffers, plaintiffs have a duty to mitigate those damages. This means that the plaintiff must take reasonable steps to prevent further harm or to reduce and rectify the injuries that he or she has suffered. The easiest example of this would be a plaintiff who was injured in a car crash and goes to see a doctor to treat her injuries. 

One of the most interesting nuances of calculating damages in a negligence claim involves the calculation of future damages. Because some cases involve extensive injuries that will last a lifetime or require extensive time to heal, plaintiffs may have to hire an expert to calculate their injuries. This calculation includes anticipating long-term or future damages using careful considerations of the current medical conditions and forecasting future potential medical complications. 

Thanks to Eglet Adams for its insight into damages in a negligence claim. For help with your personal injury claim, get in touch with a lawyer you can rely on for help throughout the process.

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