The ultimate goal of personal injury law is to make injured victims whole again. In theory, the law would like to allow people who suffer injuries to collect full compensation for all of the physical, economic, and emotional harms that an accident imposes on them. Of course, there are practical difficulties with doing this, such as accurately measuring emotional harms. Still, the fact that full compensation is the goal of the law is helpful for people's understanding of what damages are available to them in personal injury lawsuits.
What Damages Are Available
The law makes a wide variety of damages available to injured parties. Some of the most straightforward ones to understand are special compensatory damages. These are damages related to specific, easily calculated harms that a person suffered as a result of an accident. For instance, in a case arising out of a car accident, a person could receive special compensatory damages from the person who caused the accident to cover their medical bills and the repair bills for their car. The damages can also work based on prospective harms. For instance, if a victim can prove that their injuries prevented them from returning to work or lowered their ability to earn money, then they can also recover for those sorts of losses.
Courts can also award victims general compensatory damages. Rather than being tied to specific, calculable harms, general compensatory damages are supposed to compensate victims for the emotional harms that they suffer. Theoretically, these damages should be related to a person's pain and suffering, but as a practical matter they tend to be related to the special compensatory damages that a jury awards.
Additionally, courts have the option of awarding punitive damages. These damages are a special class of damages that are only given out rarely. Rather than the other types of damages, which focus on ensuring that victims are paid back for the harm they suffered, punitive damages exist to punish the defendant. The idea is that courts may impose these extra damages to punish defendants for particularly heinous conduct.
Once the court calculates the full amount of the damages, there is another step. The court must determine whether the injured victim was at all responsible for the harms that they suffered. Illinois law reduces the amount of money a victim can recover by the amount of responsibility that they bear for the accident. For instance, if a pedestrian is crossing against a light and gets struck by a drunk driver, the court may find them responsible for some amount of their own injuries. Suppose the court decides that the pedestrian was responsible for 10 percent of their harm; here they can only recover 90 percent of their total damages.
Traffic accidents can lead to life changing injuries. Fortunately, the law gives people options for how to handle these situations. If you were injured in a traffic accident and want to learn more about your rights, contact an Illinois personal injury attorney today. Our firm represents victims in many northwest suburban towns, including Schaumburg, Inverness, and Barrington.
About the Author: Attorney Ken Apicella is a founding partner of DGAA focusing in the areas of personal injury, employment, insurance coverage disputes, and civil litigation. Ken earned his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1999. He has been named a SuperLawyers Rising Star and a Forty Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch. Ken has written and lectured for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and regularly serves as a moderator at Northwest Suburban Bar Association's Continuing Legal Education seminars.