If my personal injury attorney proves the other party is responsible for my injury, what can I receive in damages?

"Damages" refers to the various types of compensation to which you may be entitled, depending on the type of personal injury you sustained, and the ability of your personal injury attorney to prove the extent of your injuries. Damages range dramatically, and you should be sure to ask your personal injury attorney at the first interview what type of damages you may be able to recover.

There are actual damages (sometimes referred to as "special"), general damages, and punitive damages. Actual damages are those which can be quantified, such as lost wages or past medical bills. General damages are more nebulous; they are awarded for pain and suffering and can vary greatly depending on many factors in your lawsuit. Actual and general damages are supposed to make you whole; they put you back in the place you would have been in if the injury had not occurred, or as close as possible. Punitive damages are not awarded frequently, as they are instead designed to punish the defendant.

Be sure to ask your personal injury attorney to carefully explain each type of damages you may be able to obtain in your lawsuit. Some are more easily proved than others, and a personal injury attorney should never promise to recover a specific amount of money for you, but will rather explain the range of financial settlements you can expect. Be wary of the personal injury attorney who tells you otherwise. The following list is not comprehensive:

Medical bills, past and future: After your personal injury attorney obtains your medical records, you will know exactly how much the treatment you have received to date as a result of your injuries has cost. Your personal injury attorney may also consult with an expert to determine your need for future medical treatment, and the anticipated cost of that treatment (taking into account all sorts of economic factors.)

Lost wages, past and future: Similarly, your employer will be able to provide documentation of time already missed from work as a result of your injuries. If you have a medical doctor who has restricted you from working, that is strong evidence in support of a lost wage claim. If you do have medical evidence that you will not be able to work in the future (or that you will be able to work, but will earn less than you otherwise would have), you may be able to get compensation now for future wages that you won't earn.

Pain & Suffering: This damage is hard to quantify; it is the legal recognition that when you are hurt, money to pay for your medical bills does not compensate you for the suffering, frustration, pain, and general unhappiness that your injury has reasonably caused.

Loss of consortium: Some states allow a significant other in your life (a spouse or child) to recover for their emotional loss resulting from your injuries. If you are no longer able to take your wife out to dinner, play football with your son, participate in household responsibilities and celebrations, your spouse or close family member may be able to recover for this loss of your company. This form of damages is very limited, but definitely worth asking your personal injury attorney about.

Property damage: This is frequently the damage to your car in an auto accident, but can also include broken glasses in an assault case, or the equipment that broke while you were using it in a products liability case. If any item of your property was damaged or destroyed in the process of you receiving your personal injury, be sure to tell your personal injury attorney.

If you do receive a large personal injury settlement, make sure your personal injury attorney discusses tax implications with you (or refers you to an accountant or tax lawyer to do so.) You may want to consider a structured settlement which pays you a fixed amount of annual money for a certain number of years, as opposed to one lump settlement. If you do have significant future costs, you want to make sure that you have the money available when they arise.