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Determining Damages in a Personal Injury Claim

A person who is injured by another person’s negligent, reckless or intentional conduct may be able to recover several different types of damages depending on the nature of their injuries. The party at fault is generally responsible for paying the injured party’s medical bills incurred as a result of the injury, pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement, wages lost as a result of missed work, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of family or society. These damages are collectively referred to as compensatory damages. They are meant to compensate the injured party for any losses suffered as a result of being injured.

Calculating the Value of Compensatory Damages

While some elements of compensatory damages are relatively straightforward and easy to calculate, others are more subjective. For example, medical bills are very clear – but how does one

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quantify something like pain and suffering? Some things to consider when determining damages in a personal injury claim include the severity of the injury, the length of the recovery process, the injured party’s age, and whether or not the injuries prevent or inhibit the injured party’s ability to continue in their occupation. Ultimately, compensatory damages are determined by a jury if the case goes to trial.

Calculating the Value Punitive Damages

In some intentional tort and strict liability cases the liable party may also be required to pay damages known as punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to deter or punish misconduct and therefore, they are determined based on the liable party’s conduct and not the injured party’s injury. Accordingly, a person who suffers injuries caused by someone else’s negligence will likely not be able to recover punitive damages because the liable party did not act intentionally.

Like some compensatory damages, punitive damages can be difficult to determine. The reprehensibility of liable party’s conduct is the most important factor. Tennessee has a statute that caps the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in a personal injury case. The statute states that “punitive or exemplary damages shall not exceed an amount equal to the greater of: (A) two times the total amount of compensatory damages awarded; or (B) five hundred thousand dollars.” In other words, an injured party can recover punitive damages amounting to either double their compensatory damages, or $500,000, whichever is greater.

Like compensatory damages, punitive damages are determined by a jury. It is important to note that because punitive damages are determined by a jury and are also rather subjective, the possibility of punitive damages can be a strong bargaining tool for an injured party wishing to settle their claim without going to trial.

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