May 20 , 2021 | Personal Injury Attorney
The full cost of an accident is often difficult to establish. In the moments immediately following an accident, such as a car crash, you might be able to get up and walk away from the scene. Only after you go to the doctor a day or two later to get checked out do you start to realize something is wrong.
Over the ensuing weeks and months, the medical bills start to pile up. You have to take more and more time off from work, so you are losing income while incurring these additional expenses. And even when you are able to work, you do so through a great deal of pain and stress as you struggle to recover from your injuries.
Even if you have medical insurance, that is often not sufficient to cover all of your costs. And health insurance will not compensate you for time missed from work or your inability to enjoy the same quality of life as you did before the accident. There is also no way to know how long insurance will pay your medical bills–or even what your future medical expenses will be down the line.
It would be one thing if the accident was nobody’s fault. But if your injuries were the direct result of another person’s negligence, then they should be held responsible for all of your financial losses. This is why accident victims file personal injury claims–to receive full and fair compensation to cover all of their losses arising from a preventable accident.
Economic and Non-Economic Damages
One of the first questions our clients ask us is, “How much is my personal injury claim worth?” The truth is, there is often no simple answer to this question, at least not at the start of a personal injury claim. What we can talk about is the various types of damages that you can seek if you do file a personal injury lawsuit.
In Wisconsin, the law divides damages–the legal term for losses–into three broad categories: economic, non-economic, and punitive. The first two categories refer specifically to your losses arising from the defendant’s negligent conduct. The third category, punitive damages, is a special circumstance that we will discuss a bit later in this article.
Economic damages cover all of your out-of-pocket financial losses due to the accident. Basically, anything you can measure in terms of dollars and cents falls under the heading of economic damages. We typically break down economic damages into the following sub-categories:
- Medical bills – The important thing to note here is that a personal injury claim does not just cover the medical bills you have received up to the point you file your lawsuit; it also includes any estimated future medical costs you may incur. So if you have suffered permanent or long-term damage that requires ongoing medical treatment or therapy, the defense can be held responsible for those costs.
- Lost Wages – If you are forced to take time off from work to deal with the consequences of an accident, such as going to the doctor or staying home to recover, the negligent parties must compensate you for these losses. Obviously, the amount of damages for lost wages will vary based on the type of job that you held at the time of the accident.
- Future Loss of Earning Capacity – Just as you can seek damages for future medical bills, you are also entitled to claim any loss of future “earning capacity” as a result of your accident-related injuries. Again, this will vary greatly based on your particular circumstances. A judge or jury must basically look at hypothetical scenarios of how your career might have unfolded but for your injuries.
- Property Damage – An accident often damages your property as well as your body. If you are in a car accident, for instance, the other driver can be required to pay the costs of repairing or replacing your vehicle.
In contrast to economic damages, non-economic damages are those losses that are quite real but cannot be measured in conventional terms. Personal injury lawyers often refer to non-economic damages as compensation for “pain and suffering.” But non-economic damages can also compensate you for the following losses:
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Permanent disfigurement
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- If your spouse was the injured party, the loss of their support and consortium
If a personal injury case goes to trial, the jury is generally free to establish the amount of non-economic damages as it sees fit. Wisconsin law, however, does impose some restrictions on certain awards of non-economic damages:
- In medical malpractice claims–i.e., lawsuits against doctors or health care providers for professional negligence–non-economic damages cannot exceed $750,000.
- If a personal injury claim is filed against the State of Wisconsin–say a state employee causes a car accident while driving an official vehicle–non-economic damages are limited to $250,000.
- Similarly, non-economic damages when the negligent party is a local government in Wisconsin cannot exceed $50,000.
As mentioned above, there is a third category of damages that may be available in a personal injury case: punitive damages. These are damages meant to punish the wrongdoer as opposed to compensate the victim for their losses. As such, punitive damages are only an option when the victim can prove the defendant “acted maliciously” or with “intentional disregard” for their rights.
Punitive damages are often used to “send a message” to wealthy defendants whose egregious behavior injures someone. Indeed, Wisconsin law expressly permits a jury to consider the defendant’s wealth when deciding punitive damages. However, the law also limits most punitive damage awards to no more than $200,000.
Speak with a Wisconsin Personal Injury Lawyer Today
Many accident victims never bother to file a personal injury claim because they are simply unaware of how much they stand to recover. That is why it is always best to consult with an experienced Oak Creek, Wisconsin, personal injury attorney who can review your case and provide you with an independent assessment of your potential damages. Contact the Martin Law Office, S.C., today to schedule a free consultation.