In a personal injury lawsuit, the amount of money you receive for your injuries is determined by calculating your damages. The idea behind damages in a personal injury case is to make the victim “whole” or restore them to the position they were in before the accident.
The legal concept of damages is broad and it includes costs and expenses that have already been incurred (e.g., medical bills from last month) as well as costs and expenses that will be incurred in the future (e.g., the cost of surgery you will need in three months). These two types of damages are often referred to as “past” and “future” damages.
Past damages, such as prior medical expenses and lost wages, are usually very simple to calculate. Future damages, however, can be much more complicated. Future damages must be supported by opinions from qualified experts, and they often get disputed by the defense. In this post, we will look at the process of estimating and supporting claims for future damages in personal injury cases.
Why Future Damages Are Critical in Personal Injury Cases
If you suffer a very serious physical injury, you will often have years of treatment and recovery ahead. You might require ongoing treatment, regular doctor’s appointments, future surgery, and be unable to work for an extended period of time. All of these will result in mounting medical expenses and loss of income for years into the future.
You are legally entitled to get compensation for these future costs in a personal injury lawsuit, but the problem is you can’t wait around for 3 years until everything is done before filing your case. This is why estimating your future loss and expenses is absolutely critical in personal injury claims. In some cases, future damages can comprise over half of the total compensation in a case. Your personal injury lawyer is responsible for ensuring that you get full and fair compensation for all future expenses.
What Future Damages Can You Collect?
Future damages allowed in a personal injury case can be broken down into several categories including future loss of income, future medical expenses, and future pain and suffering.
Future Lost Income
Catastrophic physical injuries often have a long-term impact on your ability to earn a living. You might be unable to work or operate your business for months or years in the future. In some cases, you may never be able to perform the same job again. This is why plaintiffs are entitled to damages for future lost wages or future lost income.
Your future lost income damages are calculated by comparing your future earnings capacity before the accident and your future earnings capacity after the accident. because in the future, you would likely earn different wages. Instead, the law looks at your ability to earn a living. Your loss income damages are then calculated based on the difference between the two.
Future loss of earnings damages are designed to ensure that you don’t suffer continuing financial hardship from an injury that impairs your ability to work and earn a living in the future. You do NOT have to be fully employed or earning an income at the time of your car accident to claim damages for future income loss. Future lost income damages are based on your reduced “capacity” to work and earn a living going forward.
Damages for loss of future earnings can be a very big deal in personal injury cases. They are often the single biggest element of damages in a case and can add millions to a settlement.
Future Medical Expenses
Damages for future medical expenses are supposed to cover all anticipated future medical treatments (e.g., doctor appointments, medications, surgical procedures, mobility aids, etc.) that are required in connection with the injuries suffered in the accident.
For example, let’s say you suffer 3rd-degree burns in an auto accident. Your doctor recommends a course of treatment that involves a series of multiple reconstructive surgeries over the course of the next 3-4 years. This continuing series of surgeries are necessary because of the nature of the burns and the surgical procedures. In your personal injury lawsuit, the estimated cost of all these future surgeries (and any follow-up appointments or therapy) gets included in your future medical expenses.
What Future Medical Expenses Can be Included in a Settlement?
To recover for future medical expenses, they must be: (a) directly associated with the injury caused by the defendant; and (b) medically reasonable and necessary. Examples include:
- Hospital stays, doctor exams, etc.
- Surgical procedures
- Diagnostic testing such as medical imaging (X-ray, MRI, CT Scan) or laboratory testing
- Prescription Medications
- Physical therapy and rehabilitative therapy
- Mobility aids and medical equipment.
Another Way of Looking at Future Pain and Suffering Damages
How much should pain and suffering damages be for permanent injuries? Our lawyers have had a history of using something called “reducing it to the ridiculous” which some people call a per diem argument.
Let’s say the victim fractured her ankle and will walk with a limp the rest of her life. She will never run. She will never play kickball with her children. What is that worth? What if there was an ad in the newspaper for the disability promising to pay $100 a day in exchange for those limitations? Who would take that job? Nobody would.
But those damages for a 25-year-old woman with 50 years of life remaining statistically amount to damages of $1,825,000 ($100 x 365 x 50).