Personal Injury

What Are "General" and "Special" Damages in a Personal Injury Settlement?

An in-depth look into the two main categories of monetary compensation ("damages") available to the claimant in a personal injury settlement.

When you suffer injuries in any kind of accident caused by someone else, what kinds of compensation can you recover in a settlement with the at-fault party (usually through their insurance company? This article explains the "general" and "special" damages that may be available to you in a personal injury settlement, in the context of a hypothetical car accident case.

The Accident and Injuries

The claimant has been involved in a serious auto accident caused by a drunk driver who crossed the center line and struck the claimant's vehicle head-on. Although the air bags deployed, Clay (the claimant) still suffered a number of broken bones, a ruptured spleen, and a closed head injury.

As a result of multiple surgeries, hospitalizations, physical therapy and psychiatric care, Clay incurred thousands of dollars of medical bills and has been unable to return to work for several months. Clay has also experienced severe pain, emotional trauma, depression and a lack of enjoyment of many of the ordinary pleasures of life.

Clay has been told that if he sues the driver (Dwayne), Dwayne's insurance company will defend the claim and will likely offer Clay a settlement to compensate for "general" and "special" damages. (Learn more about How Insurance Affects a Car Accident Case.)

What exactly do these different types of damages cover?

What Are "General" and "Special" Damages?

"General" damages are damages that cannot be computed with mathematical certainty. These consist of such things as:

  • pain and suffering
  • emotional trauma, and
  • the effects of the accident, the injuries, and all necessary medical treatment on the claimant's daily life.

In contrast, "special" damages are those that can be precisely calculated. These include:

  • medical bills
  • property damage, and
  • lost wages.

Depending on the nature and severity of your injuries, one or both of these damage categories can add up to a significant sum. Generally speaking, the amount of your personal injury settlement will be determined by how well you can document your "special" damages and how convincingly you can quantify your "general" damages.

Proving "General" and "Special" Damages

In presenting your case to the at-fault party's insurance company, you will need to support your claims for "special" damages with copies of your medical bills, documentation of your property damage, and records showing the time you missed at work and the resulting wages you have lost. Additionally, you will need to have your doctor(s) certify that your injuries have prevented you from working for a defined period of time. When you present a thoroughly-documented claim for "special" damages to the insurance company, you will be in a strong position to receive a settlement offer that fully compensates you for these losses, assuming the opposing party's liability is well established.

On the other side of the coin, your ability to obtain a favorable settlement for "general" damages will require you to convince the insurance company that your claimed pain, suffering, emotional trauma, and other more subjective damages are real and significant.

In many cases, these claimed conditions can be confirmed by treating doctors and other health professionals who have seen the effects of the accident on you and your daily activities. For example, these witnesses can testify to the pain associated with your fractures and subsequent treatment; your irritability, sleeplessness and depression; and your overall lack of enjoyment of your former hobbies and social activities.

In cases of severe physical and/or psychiatric injuries, an experienced personal injury attorney will sometimes commission the making of a "day in the life" film that shows exactly how the accident and injuries affect the claimant's life. These films are costly to produce but are powerful tools that can drastically increase the settlement value of a case. When the insurance company receives compelling, documented support for your "special" damages, it will be inclined to offer a more favorable settlement for this aspect of your claim, in part because the insurer knows that if the case goes to trial, the jury is going to see a pretty convincing picture of the claimant's losses.

Get more details on recoverable compensation in a personal injury case: Personal Injury Damages FAQ

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