Know the difference between these two types of damages in personal injury cases.
Compensatory damages are meant to compensate a victim for losses related to their injuries.
Punitive damages are only awarded in cases where an injury was caused by extreme recklessness or malice. They are designed to deter others from exhibiting similar behavior.
What is a damage claim?
The legal word “damages” refers to the amount of money that a victim can legally recover from a person or company who caused their injury.
- The individual circumstances that lead to the accident
- The severity of your injuries
Compensatory and punitive damages are the most common types of damages awarded in an accident or personal injury claim. We’ll discuss these damages in detail below.
Compensatory damages are meant to compensate a victim for losses related to their injuries. These damages can be further divided into either special compensatory damages or general compensatory damages.
Special compensatory damages
Special compensatory damages are economic damages that are intended to compensate victims for monetary losses related to their injuries. This includes compensation for medical expenses and lost wages.
Under South Carolina law, personal injury victims are entitled to compensation for all medical expenses related to their injury from the at-fault party.
Medical expenses can include reimbursement for doctor’s appointments, hospital and emergency room visits, surgeries, rehabilitation, medication costs and assistive devices, such as a wheelchair. These expenses can also include reimbursement for future medical costs if your injury is expected to cause long-term issues that require continued medical treatment.
Personal injury victims are also entitled to compensation for lost wages related to their injuries.
If your injury caused you to miss work, you are entitled to reimbursement for the money you lost during your recovery period. Similarly, if your injury prevents you from returning to work or requires you to work in a reduced capacity, you may be entitled to reimbursement for future lost wages as well.
General compensatory damage
General compensatory damages, also referred to as non-economic damages, are intended to compensate victims for issues unrelated to monetary loss, such as emotional and physical pain and suffering.
These damages are often more subjective and difficult to quantify.
According to South Carolina law, the following can be considered when determining non-economic damages:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Injury to reputation
- Loss of consortium/companionship
Pain and suffering is the most common type of non-economic damage in personal injury claims.
An award for pain and suffering is used to compensate a victim for the physical and emotional suffering they experienced as a result of their injury.
How general damages are determined in South Carolina personal injury cases
There’s no specific formula to calculate non-economic damages. Judges and juries generally take a number of factors into consideration related to the injury, including the degree of negligence that led to the injury and the lasting effects the injury will have on the victim’s life.
There are typically 2 methods used to calculate value when handling pain and suffering:
- Multiplier method. This method takes the economic damages owed to the plaintiff and multiplies this amount by a number between 1 and 5, depending on the severity of the injury and its effect on the plaintiff’s life. For instance, if the economic damages are worth $100,000 and the multiplier assigned is 2, then the value of pain and suffering would be $200,000.
- Per diem. With this method, the victim is compensated a dollar amount for each day it took them to recover from their injury. For example, if a victim is awarded $100 per day and it took them 9 months (or 270 days) to recover, they would be entitled to $27,000 in pain and suffering damages
In South Carolina, there is no cap on damages for pain and suffering, except in cases of medical malpractice in which the maximum you can receive is $350,000.
Punitive damages are only awarded in cases where an injury was caused by extreme recklessness or malice. These damages are intended to punish the defendant and deter others from exhibiting similar behavior. Punitive damages are far less common in personal injury lawsuits than special and general damages.
In South Carolina, there’s a limit on the amount of punitive damages a victim can recover, which is 3 times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.
How long after an injury can I make a claim?
Under South Carolina laws, there are time limits for how long you have to file a personal injury case following an injury.
In most cases, claims against private individuals or institutions must be filed within 3 years after the injury occurred.
Claims against a government entity such as a county hospital or police department must be filed within 2 years of the injury.
Learn about the South Carolina statute of limitations for personal injury cases, so you don’t miss the deadline to file a lawsuit and receive compensation.
When to contact a South Carolina personal injury attorney
If you were the victim of another person’s negligence, you have a legal right to receive compensation. An experienced injury attorney can give you an estimate of what your case may be worth based on similar cases, so you can make an informed decision about how to proceed.
Always consult with an experienced personal injury attorney before accepting any offer from an insurance company following an accident.
Insurance companies will typically offer you far less than you deserve, and once you accept their offer, you won’t be able to recover further damages if your injuries require additional time off of work or continued medical treatment.
If you’ve suffered an injury because of someone else’s negligence, the experienced personal injury attorneys at Chappell, Chappell and Newman are here to help.
We’ve dedicated our practice to helping injured clients across the state of South Carolina get the justice and compensation they deserve.
Contact us today for your free consultation so we can develop an individualized plan for you.