What are "compensatory damages?"

The term "compensatory damages" refers to a claim for the amount of money that it will take to make up for what a person lost.  For example, if you are injured in a car collision in Oregon, you can make different kinds of claims for compensatory damage.  The bottom line, however, is that the claim for compensatory damages is aimed at getting back what a person lost.  It is not a prize, or an award.  There are different kinds of compensatory damages.  Let's break it down into smaller pieces.

Any kind of claim that can be verified with some objective evidence is a claim for "economic damages."  This is the phrase law makers gave this kind of claim. All this means is that there is something you can point to that shows the amount of the loss.  In an Oregon personal injury case, medical expenses and lost wages are the most common examples of this kind of claim.  An injured person and an insurance adjuster will agree that a certain medical bill is a certain amount.  The number is right there on the bill. The adjuster may not agree that the medical care was necessary, or that it was a result of their insured's careless behavior.  They may also argue the bill is too high.  But one thing everyone can agree upon is that the bill is for a certain amount. That is what makes it objective.

Lost wages are the same.  If a doctor takes you off work for two weeks, and your wage records show you make $400.00 a week, then everyone will agree that the claim is for two weeks of lost income at $400.00 per week, or $800.00.  There could be arguments about whether you were disabled as long as you claim, or whether the disability was a result of someone's careless behavior.  But everyone will agree on the math.

In some cases, a person may have a permanent but partial loss of ability to earn, or the injury may have disabled them from any future work.  In those kinds of cases, an injured person can seek compensation for future lost earnings, or future lost earning capacity.  The same is true for future medical care needs.  Whenever you are making a claim for future losses, you will probably need a medical expert or life care planner to explain the need for future medical bills.  A treating doctor opinion is also required to prove future disability, and you may need to have a vocational expert calculate and explain future lost earnings.

The other kind of compensatory damage claim you can make in Oregon if another person carelessly causes you injury is a claim for "non-economic" damages.  Again, this is the phrase from the statute.  This kind of compensatory damage is compensation for the loss of your health.  Oregon law recognizes that everyone is entitled to be a whole person.  If someone is careless, and takes a part of that away from you, even if it is temporary, you are entitled to be compensated for that loss.

Juries, when asked to determine how much to compensate someone for this loss, are instructed to consider the "subjective, non-monetary" losses a person suffered because of another's negligence or carelessness.  This can include inability to participate in activities outside of work, pain, suffering, and the emotional distress that goes along with being injured.  Jurors are also told that they must be reasonable in determining the amount of non-economic damages a person deserves to make up for their harms and losses.

There are many factors that go into determining a "reasonable" amount of compensation for non-economic damage. How badly was the person injured?  How painful was the injury?  How much did it interfere with their everyday life?  One important factor is whether the injury's effects are permanent.  Some injuries are life changing.  If someone suffers a permanent loss from an injury, a jury can consider the life long consequences of the injury in determine what is fair to compensate for the loss.

If you have more questions about compensatory damages, check out our free personal injury book, or call us to speak to a car accident lawyer directly.

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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Top-rated Personal Injury Lawyer Helping Oregon and Washington Families