The United States has a tort system that is designed to compensate people who are injured at the hands of someone else. In other words, we have a legal system that holds a person or entity accountable when their wrongdoing harms another person. Under our tort system, wrongdoers are held accountable by compensating the people they injure. The money awarded to an injured person is known in the legal world as “damages.”
This blog post–and the two that will follow–will detail the compensation available to someone who suffers an injury as a result of someone else’s fault. This first blog will discuss “special damages.” The second blog will discuss “general damages.” The final blog will discuss how a jury decides on the total amount of damages awarded to someone who has suffered a personal injury. This blog series will discuss Minnesota law, but many of the concepts are applicable to other states and in Federal court as well.
Before we delve into the specifics of “special damages,” it is worthwhile to discuss some basic concepts about damages. First, a party seeking damages must prove the nature, extent, duration, and consequences of his or her injury. A jury is not allowed to decide damages based on speculation or guess. Second, a party seeking damages related to a personal injury has a duty to act reasonably in caring for that injury. This is called mitigation of damages–a person is only allowed damages that he or she would have experienced if he or she had acted reasonably in getting treatment. This includes surgical intervention. Juries are instructed that if they believe surgery would have improved a person’s injuries and a reasonable person would have had a surgery under the circumstances, the jury must consider that fact in deciding the amount of damages. Finally, an injured person needs to show that their injuries are causally related to the harm-causing event.
Special damages are damages that compensate an injured person for quantifiable monetary losses. Special damages can be past or future, meaning they are losses that have actually occurred in the past or are reasonably certain to occur in the future. Special damages include the cost of medical supplies, the cost of hospitalization, and, more generally, the cost of health services necessary for treatment. Special damages also include loss of earnings up to the time of the jury verdict. Juries in a personal injury case are instructed that past damages for loss of earnings may include earnings, salary, or the value of working time lost as a result of the injury. An injured person can also recover damages for loss of earning capacity in the future, but that is an item of general damages, which will be discussed in the second blog in this three-part series.
If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of someone else’s conduct, it is important to contact a lawyer right away to see if you have claim for damages. The attorneys at Bird, Stevens & Borgen, P.C. have extensive experience handling personal injury claims and are always available for a free consultation.