Dos and Don'ts of Personal Injury
DO seek medical attention before doing anything else.
DO summon the police, in appropriate cases.
DO cooperate with all law enforcement and emergency personnel who respond to the scene.
DO get the license plate numbers of all other vehicles involved in car accidents and the drivers’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, and insurance information.
DO get the name and address of the animal’s owner and any license information if you were injured by an animal bite or attack.
DO write down the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all potential witnesses to an accident.
DO contact your health, homeowner’s, and/or automobile insurance companies, as appropriate.
DO take photographs of all of the following, as applicable, as soon as possible after the accident:
- The scene of the accident, from all angles.
- The surrounding area.
- The product or animal that caused your injuries.
- Your injuries.
- Any property damage.
DO contact your attorney.
DON’T move your vehicle after an automobile accident unless necessary for safety or required by law.
DON’T subject yourself to further injury by standing or waiting in an area of traffic or other safety hazards.
DON’T leave the scene of an accident until the police tell you it is okay to do so.
DON’T throw away any potential evidence in the case, such as defective products, or torn or blood-stained clothing.
DON’T remain in a burning building while calling for help. Leave the area of danger first, and then immediately call from a safe place.
DON’T engage in discussions as to fault with anyone, and make sure you don’t apologize for anything—it can be considered evidence that you were legally at fault.
DON’T agree to settlement terms without contacting your attorney.
GLOSSARY: PERSONAL-INJURY DAMAGES
Diminished earning capacity. See “lost earning capacity.”
Disfigurement. When the injury has left the plaintiff deformed or disfigured, e.g., by horrible scars or other insults on one’s personal appearance, the plaintiff may be able to collect damages for his or her mental suffering caused by being conscious of the disfigurement. These damages are sometimes included as an element of other types of damages, such as mental anguish.
Emotional distress. See “mental anguish.”
Future medical expenses. Recovery is permitted if the plaintiff proves that he or she will need continued medical care as a result of the defendant’s wrongful act. The proof must be sufficient for the jury to make an approximate estimate of the cost.
Future profits. Recovery for projected profits that, because of the injury, will not be earned. Proof requires a showing that there is a reasonable basis for determining the amount; speculation is not proof.
General damages. Compensation for harm that ordinarily results from wrongful conduct, such as physical and mental pain, loss of enjoyment of life. These damages cannot be proved with monetary exactness.
Goodwill. An intangible value of a business based on the business’s ability to provide customers with the services and goods they want, willingness to stand behind products and warranties, and the reputation of the product or the business.
Hedonic damages. See “loss of enjoyment of life.”
Household services. The cost of hiring somebody to do things around the house while the plaintiff is recuperating, provided that the expense would not have been incurred had the plaintiff not been injured. It is sometimes included as a medical expense.
Loss of consortium. Deprivation of the benefits of married life, that is, the affection, solace, comfort, companionship, society, help and assistance, and the sexual relations between spouses. Usually the uninjured spouse makes the claim and his or her recovery will depend on whether the injured spouse recovers any damages. Sometimes the injured person will make the claim as well. A value is placed on this loss by considering the couple’s individual life expectancies, whether the marriage was stable, how much care and companionship was bestowed upon the uninjured spouse (or vice versa), and the extent to which the benefits of married life have been lost.
Loss of consortium of a child. Parents may be able to recover damages when their child is injured when the injuries are severe enough that they interfere with the normal relationship between parents and their children.
Loss of enjoyment of life. A diminished ability to enjoy the day-to-day pleasures of life, it is an item of general damages, meaning there is no precise way to place a monetary value on it. Some states treat it as a form of pain and suffering, while others treat it as a distinct kind of damage.
Loss of past earnings. See “lost wages.”
Loss of society and companionship. Damages awarded in cases involving wrongful death that represent the positive benefits flowing from the love, comfort, companionship, and society the plaintiff family members (as defined in your state’s wrongful-death statute) would have enjoyed had the decedent lived. Jury considers evidence that a harmonious relationship existed between the plaintiff and the decedent, their living arrangements, common interests and activities, and whether the decedent and plaintiff were separated for extended periods. See “loss of consortium” and “loss of consortium of a child.”
Lost earning capacity. May be recovered if the plaintiff proves that his or her ability to earn money in the future has been impaired or diminished by the injuries the defendant caused. Factors that help determine whether an award should be made include the plaintiff’s age, health, life expectancy, occupation, talents, skill, experience, and training. One court described these damages as the “increased probability of unemployment”; past earnings are a factor to determine the amount, but the claim really focuses on what could have been.
Lost profits. Net profits the plaintiff would have earned in his or her business had the plaintiff not been injured by the defendant. The plaintiff usually must show that the business was profitable, that profits decreased since the plaintiff was injured, that the losses are not caused by something else such as a downturn in the economy, and the extent to which the business was the plaintiff’s “baby,” rather than dependent on the labor of others.
Lost wages. The amount of money the plaintiff would have earned from the time he or she was injured to the date of trial. An unemployed person may be permitted to recover lost wages if he or she can prove what he or she could have earned during the same period.
Medical expenses. Bills and expenses for doctors, hospital stays, emergency room treatment, ambulance fees, nursing services, and the like. The plaintiff must show that the expenses are related to medical conditions resulting from his or her injury. The total amount of medical expenses is sometimes used as a rough guide to decide whether the overall award of damages is reasonable. The cost of a medical examination for purposes of litigation is not recoverable as a medical expense.
Medical surveillance. The cost of monitoring plaintiff’s medical condition after the plaintiff was exposed to a hazardous substance so that disease is detected early.
Mental anguish. Any mental suffering or emotional distress such as fright, terror, apprehension, nervousness, anxiety, worry, humiliation, mortification, feeling of lost dignity, embarrassment, grief, shock, or ordeal.
Pain and suffering. An award for past and future physical pain. To place a monetary value on pain and suffering, the jury considers the nature of the injury, the certainty of future pain, its severity, and how long the plaintiff is likely to be in pain. Some states allow the jury to assume that if a bodily injury has occurred there has been some pain and suffering and some require that the plaintiff be conscious.
Permanent disability. Best proved by medical testimony; a doctor usually must examine the plaintiff. Some courts have concluded that it can include not only disabilities that are objectively determined, but also disabilities that the plaintiff perceives.
Present cash value. The current value of projected future earnings; the amount that, if invested wisely, will over time produce the amount the plaintiff would have earned had he or she not been injured.
Special damages. Monetary losses, such as medical expenses. Recovery requires detailed proof that the losses were sustained and how much money was involved.