Damages in Personal Injury Suits: Special vs. General

In personal injury lawsuits, damages refer to monetary compensation that is claimed by, and awarded to, a person (the plaintiff) who has been injured or suffered harm due to the wrongful conduct of another party (the defendant). Damages are awarded as an attempt to restore the injured person to the position he or she would have been in had the injury not taken place. General and special damages fall under the broader category of compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are remedial rather than punitive; that is, they are awarded with the intention of compensating the plaintiff as opposed to punishing the defendant. We will now take a closer look at both of these types of damages.

General Damages

General damages are awarded for the non-monetary losses suffered by the injured person that are directly linked to, and flow naturally from, the wrongful conduct of the defendant. These include physical pain and suffering, general loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship, physical disfigurement, mental anguish, physical impairment, and lowered quality of life. Because such losses carry no monetary value and the injuries suffered are often personal and subjective to the plaintiff, general damages can be difficult to financially quantify. For example, how does one place a dollar value for the loss of enjoyment of life when one loses his or her ability to walk due to a severe car accident?

The Courts will consider several factors to help determine the appropriate amount of general damages to be awarded. Such factors include, but are not limited to, the plaintiff’s age and general health prior to the incident, nature and severity of the incident, level of disability, severity and duration of plaintiff’s pain, and loss of lifestyle or impairment of life. Courts will also look to previous case law with similar facts and injuries to help assist in their assessment of damages. However, as no two persons will experience the exact same injury, healing process, or recovery time frame, the amount of general damages awarded can vary, even amongst cases that share strikingly similar incidents and circumstances.

In 1978, the Supreme Court of Canada set a limit on the maximum amount of general damages that may be awarded at $100,000 (approximately $340,000 with inflation) for the most severe injuries, such as a young quadriplegic. The Court reasoned that because the losses which general damages provide relief for carry no real dollar value, any amount of money awarded cannot truly and fully reimburse the injured person. Instead, general damages simply provide the plaintiff with the necessary means for proper care. As such, the focal point of an appropriate award of general damages for personal injuries should be on its ability to provide adequate future care to the injured person.

Special Damages

Unlike general damages, special damages can easily be calculated and measured in monetary amounts. They are intended to reimburse the injured person for out of pocket expenses he or she incurred due to the defendant’s wrongful conduct. Such losses include medical and rehabilitation expenses, lost wages, lost income while the plaintiff was recovering, loss of future income and earning capacity, and housekeeping and maintenance costs.  An award of special damages requires such losses and expenses to be proven with specificity. In other words, they must be easily converted into a specific dollar amount. Because an exact dollar amount will most likely have already been spent, most losses included under the category of special damages can be translated into a specific dollar amount without any difficulty. However, when a loss requires a calculation of future costs, such as the cost of future medical care, arriving at an appropriate and specific dollar amount becomes less clear. Nevertheless, the use of expert evidence and witnesses can help with this financial assessment.

If you, a friend, or a family member has been injured and are considering your legal options, contact our experienced personal injury team at DBH Law. Our team has experience with a variety of injury types and actions, including single and multiple crash motor vehicle accidents. We are here to help you navigate these unfamiliar legal waters, and pursue a meaningful settlement on your behalf.