When a judge or jury finds a defendant liable for wrongful conduct in a personal injury case, the issue then becomes what types of damages are due to the plaintiff, and in what amount. As you know, if you suffer a personal injury you’ll likely require medical attention and may need rehabilitation, all of which costs substantial sums of money. You may lose income (and/or have to use up “sick time”) because of the injury, and you may continue to lose income while treatment and recovery takes place. You may have sustained property damage to your car and other property. Since you can’t drive your vehicle while it is being repaired, you may have to rent one, and car repairs and rentals cost money. You may also lose the ability to perform various activities of normal daily living, for a while or permanently, and endure significant pain and suffering.
The law permits you to seek recovery after an accident to “make you whole again.” The central concept is that you should be compensated in a manner that, as best as the law can arrange, places you back in the same position as you were before the accident. In most personal injury actions the plaintiff must have been injured in some way to be entitled to damages. For example, in negligence cases, we must prove that you suffered injury (some type of physical, emotional or monetary harm) for the defendant to be required to pay compensation to you. However, with some intentional torts (such as battery, assault or trespass) we may only have to show that the defendant engaged in the unauthorized conduct, without proving that you suffered actual physical harm, in order to recover damages (though damages in these situations are often nominal absent serious injury).
Three basic kinds of damages are awarded in personal injury cases: compensatory damages, punitive damages and nominal damages.