SALT LAKE INJURY, BUSINESS LITIGATION & MEDICAL PROVIDER BLOG
What Types of Damages Can Be Recovered in a Utah Personal Injury Case?
Before discussing the types of damages that are potentially recoverable in a personal injury case, it’s first important to understand under what circumstance a person may sue another as the result of an injury. More specifically, it’s important to understand what constitutes legal negligence.
What is Negligence?
In Utah, a person can bring a personal injury lawsuit if they are injured due to the negligence or intentionally wrongful acts of another. Most commonly, people are injured from negligence.
“Negligence”, in legal terms, means that a person owed a duty of safety to someone else, and that person “breached” (or failed to comply with) this duty of safety. If a person (or a company or organization) failed to act is a safe manner, and harm or death resulted, then the injured person (or their family, if a death has resulted) will have a right in Utah to bring a civil action for the harm and damages that resulted.
How a Person May Be Negligent
There are many ways in which a person or entity may be negligent; a few common ways are the following:
- Failure to act in a safe manner. For instance, when driving, we must obey all traffic laws and drive attentively. If a person causes an action by running a red light or failing to drive carefully because they are texting, they may be found to have been negligent.
- Failure to take action. A person can also be liable for inaction. For instance, if a grocery store owner fails to clean up a spill after being made aware of the same and a customer slips and is injured by the spill, the grocery store owner may be held liable.
- Defective products. Products must be safe so that when operated according to directions, they will not cause injury. However, many products are defective – sometimes in the design or performance of the product, other times in the failure to provide clear instructions about how to operate the product safely.
In recent years, products such as defective air bags in vehicles and faulty tires have caused numerous injuries and deaths. In the case of defective products, manufacturers and those selling, distributing, or installing the products all may be “strictly” liable for the injury and death that occur.
Making You “Whole” for Your Injuries
If you are injured, the law seeks to make you “whole,” or to try to place you in the same financial and emotional position you would have been in had you not been injured. The amount of compensation owed to an injured person are their “damages.”
A person’s damages can only be those “that flow from, or are the natural consequence of,” the incident. For instance, if you are injured in a car accident and incur medical costs from hospitalization, and you suffer lost wages due to an inability to work, those damages would be considered to be a natural consequence from the incident.
Special and General Damages
Personal injury damages take two forms: special damages and general damages.
What are Special Damages?
Special damages, typically, are a person’s “out-of-pocket” expenses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, diminished earning capacity, and travel expenses. Special damages can be expenses actually incurred or those that are reasonably anticipated.
For example, say a person is severely injured on a faulty ATV and their doctor concludes they will need a knee replacement now and another knee replacement in 20 years. That person’s special damages encompass all their expenses for the surgery today, including time off of work, and the expenses expected to be incurred for the surgery in 20 years.
In many cases in which a severe injury is incurred, future damages can be substantial. At trial, however, there is no ability to later recover for future damages at the time they are actually incurred. Instead, all damages must be demanded at trial, as that is when a full judgment for all liability and damages will be rendered.
As a result, at trial, the role of the attorneys for the injured person is to not only recover for damages incurred up until the date of the trial, but also to prove to a jury the expected amount of the future damages to be incurred so that a jury can also render a judgment for such damages.
What are “General Damages”? Recovering for Pain and Suffering
Although money is no equivalent to the emotional and mental damage you may experience, the law endeavors to compensate you for your pain or suffering as well. Pain and suffering and emotional damages are referred to as “general damages.”
Unlike special damages, the dollar amount of associated with special damages is usually not readily identifiable. For example, medical expenses can be easily identified based upon hospital bills; there is no way to see a specific dollar amount for damages such as the pain and suffering or emotional damage that an injured person has sustained.
At trial, it is up the attorneys for the injury victim to make the case to a jury about the “special” damages that have been suffered. Based upon the evidence presented, the jurors will then make a determination for these damages based upon what they believe to be fair.
In considering an award of special damages, jurors must consider those which a “reasonable person” would endure considering their unique life circumstances. A court or jury cannot compensate you for an emotional or psychological reaction which, while considering your unique circumstance, is considered “unreasonable.”
For example, if a bicyclist was hit by a car, that person may have an ongoing fear and anxiety about cycling, and may not be able to ever resume cycling again. That would be reasonable and compensable. However, if that person claimed they could no longer drive a vehicle for the remainder of their life because it was a vehicle who hit them, or if they feared even leaving their house, such fears may not be deemed to be reasonable. If this is the case, such fears would not be compensable.
How We Seek Full Compensation for Our Clients
Which damages to seek and how to best pursue them should be discussed between a client and their attorney. We offer a free consultation for clients in catastrophic injury and wrongful death matters, and once we understand about the nature of your case, we can answer your questions and discuss with your options for seeking full compensation.