A Brief Look at Alabama Personal Injury Damages

Dec 29, 2017 - Personal Injury by

In Alabama, as in other states, if you are injured in an accident that was caused by the negligent, reckless, or intentional acts of another, you may be entitled to sue and recover damages.

Litigation can be difficult and emotionally-draining.  As such, many would-be plaintiffs are reasonably concerned about whether it’s worth litigating their injury claims — in essence, they want to know what damages they might be entitled to under the law, and whether those damages justify the potential frustrations of a lawsuit.

Have you suffered injuries due to someone else’s fault?  Get in touch with an experienced Alabama personal injury attorney as soon as possible.  Your injury claims have a deadline attached to their filing.  Consulting with an attorney early on will ensure that your claims are assessed and litigated in a timely manner.

Let’s walk through some of the basics of personal injury damages in Alabama.  By understanding the foundational elements, the extent of your damage recovery will be made more clear.

Compensatory Damages

Generally speaking, damages are intended to compensate the injured party for their various losses and put them in as close a position as possible to their status prior to the accident at-issue.  Compensatory damages should not unjustly “enrich” the injured plaintiff — they must (to the extent possible) track the actual losses suffered by the plaintiff.

Economic Damages

Economic damages compensate the injured plaintiff for those losses that are financial in nature.  Though there are exceptions, economic damages tend to be easier to measure than non-economic damages, as there is often a record of such losses.  For example, if you are suing the defendant and attempting to recover damages for your current medical expenses, then you can introduce your medical bills into evidence to prove your expenses.

Economic damages include, but are not necessarily limited, to:

  • Medical expenses (past and future)
  • Wage loss (past and future)
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Loss of property

Future damages are recoverable, too, though they are more difficult to prove.  For example, suppose that your doctors have recommended that you go through an extensive back surgery following injuries suffered in a car accident.  At the time of your lawsuit, the back surgery is scheduled to take place in the future (perhaps six months to a year after trial).  You can assert damages that include this future medical expense.

The defendant is likely to argue that some cheaper, reasonable treatment alternative is available, and that the back surgery is unnecessary.  You will want to introduce expert witness testimony from surgeons and physicians in which the cost of the surgery (and its necessity) is persuasively explained on the basis of medical evidence and healthcare cost data.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages compensate the injured plaintiff for subjectively-experienced losses, such as mental suffering.  The difficulty with non-economic damages is in proving that the damages are an accurate representation of the actual losses experienced by the plaintiff.

Non-economic damages include, but are not necessarily limited, to:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium, companionship, and guidance
  • Emotional distress

Generally speaking, your non-economic damages amount will roughly correspond to your economic damages amount, though the two are not necessarily related.  For example, if you suffer a minor leg fracture injury with minimal medical expenses and only a week of wage loss, then it will be much more difficult to assert significant pain and suffering damages.  To show that you have experienced significant pain and suffering, you will want to introduce medical record evidence (and expert testimony) that specifically relates to your pain symptoms.

Unfortunately, Alabama puts damage caps on certain claims, depending on the defendant.  In claims against a municipality (or an employee/agent thereof), you may be limited to recovering a total of $100,000, except in certain circumstances.  In these injury scenarios, your attorney will help you identify possible co-defendants and other avenues for recovery.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages operate on a fundamentally different level than compensatory damages.  In Alabama (as in other states), where compensatory damages are intended to compensate the injured plaintiff by accounting for their losses and putting them in a position that somewhat represents their pre-accident position, punitive damages are intended to “punish” the defendant and discourage others from engaging in similar, wrongful conduct.  As such, punitive damages can be quite large.

In personal injury cases where the plaintiff recovers significant damage amounts (in the millions), punitive damages may be involved.  Still, it’s worth noting that punitive damages are rather uncommon in the personal injury context, as the defendant’s conduct must be malicious or egregiously reckless such that the court feels punitive damages are appropriate in the circumstances.  Mere negligence is not enough for a court to award punitive damages.  For example, if a driver is briefly distracted on the road and causes an accident, it is unlikely that punitive damages will be awarded.  On the other hand, if a driver is racing his friend on a local road (driving more than 100 miles per hour in a residential area) then the level of recklessness may be enough for the court to award punitive damages.

Punitive damages are awarded based on the total compensatory damages.  If a plaintiff is entitled to recover $250,000 in compensatory damages, then the court may award up to three times that amount in punitive damages — $750,000, for a $1M total recovery.  Alabama law puts into place a punitive damages cap, however.  A court may not award more than three times the compensatory damages amount in punitives, and there is a hard cap at $1.5M.  If you are entitled to recover $1M in compensatory damages, for example, then the court may only award up to $1.5M in punitive damages, for a total of $2.5M in damages.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Cross and Smith today to discuss your legal rights and options.

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