Special Damages & General Damages: What You Need to Know

If you have been the victim of injury or loss due to another person’s negligence, you have the right to claim damages in a civil lawsuit. The purpose of a civil claim is to recover monetary payment for economic losses that someone caused you to experience, as well as to recover payment for noneconomic losses in certain circumstances. The term “damages” (also called “compensatory damages”) refers to the amount of money the law imposes for a breach of a duty or violation of a right. 

Two types of damages can be awarded in a personal injury case–Special and General. The Doyle Law Offices, PA is experienced in working on cases involving both types of damages. The difference between general damages vs special damages, is fundamental in civil personal injury lawsuits. Understanding these two categories of compensatory damages requires the knowledge and experience of a Wake Forest personal injury attorney.

In this article, we define both types of damages, differentiate between general damages vs special damages, and explain how they are calculated so you have the information you need in a civil lawsuit case. Please note: Since general damages are primarily part of personal injury cases, our article focuses on personal injury while giving some context to other types of civil lawsuits where damages are also awarded.

The Purpose of Compensatory Damages

Civil damages are monetary awards owed to a winning plaintiff by the losing defendant in a civil case tried in a court of law. Damages are the remedy that a party requests the court award in an attempt to make the injured party whole. The intent of awarding civil damages is to grant plaintiffs the resources that restore them to their conditions before their injuries or loss. However, the plaintiff may have suffered harm in terms of damages to personal property, physical injury, or the loss of support and opportunities where full restoration cannot be made.

General Damages vs Special Damages Defined

Let's look at the definitions of general damages vs special damages. General damages (also referred to as “noneconomic” damages) are primarily applicable in personal injury cases. They compensate an injured individual for non-monetary damages that are incurred in a personal injury claim. Special damages (also referred to as “economic” damages) are monetary awards for things that are easily calculated, like medical invoices and automotive repair bills.

A Wake County lawyer explains the difference between general damages vs special damages to a client in his office while taking notes with a pen. A gravel is pictured on the desk.

Types of Personal Injury Cases Resulting in Damages

Now that we've defined the differences between general damages vs special damages, we'll now go over how personal injury cases are classified. Various situations can cause personal injuries. Valuing a personal injury claim begins by understanding the different types of compensable losses. Here are six of the most common examples of personal injury lawsuits in the United States:

General Damages

In a personal injury case, general damages are the compensation one receives for the intangible losses resulting from the injury such as pain and suffering and emotional distress. These are losses with no existing bills or costs associated with them. However, the losses are harms that a person has suffered and is suffering from and deserves compensation for. 

When differentiating between general damages vs special damages, general damages are much more difficult to estimate than special damages because of their subjectivity. For example, in a case where a person loses a limb in an accident, a monetary value must be assigned as general damage. How is this value calculated? How does one put a monetary value on the loss of use of a body part? These damages are estimated using one or more formulas and depend on the unique circumstances of the case. Many times, expert witnesses are brought in to help in ascertaining the damage.

Types of General Damages

These are common types of general damages in personal injury cases:

  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental or emotional pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement or deformity
  • Lost enjoyment
  • Loss of companionship (in wrongful death cases)
  • Decreased quality of life

Example of General Damages in a Personal Injury Case

An example of general damage is loss of companionship. Courts have decided in prior cases that spouses can hold other parties accountable for what an injury did to their marriage. A married couple’s intimacy, emotional support, parenting, and household responsibilities, among other things, can all be affected by an injury or death. These can be awarded general damages.

How General Damages Are Calculated

Determining general damages usually involves assigning an exact dollar amount to a subjective injury. These issues may be intangible and differ from person to person. In awarding the damages, factors come into play such as the gruesome nature of an injury, the skillfulness of the attorneys, and the judge and/or jury.

There are formulas that some insurance companies use when offering a personal injury settlement. One common formula is the “multiplier method” which involves taking the victim’s special damages and multiplying them by a factor between 1.5 and 5. The specific factor is chosen based on the seriousness of the injuries. Use a pain and suffering calculator to estimate your result.

Special Damages

When looking at general damages vs special damages, special damages (economic damages) are compensation for your out-of-pocket expenses, resulting from the defendant’s negligence. Special damages are easier to calculate than general damages because the monetary value is based on the expenses the victim has incurred from the accident. 

Types of Special Damages

When further breaking down general damages vs special damages, compensation for special damages is based on fair market value at the time of the incident. As the victim, you must clearly define all special damages in the personal injury claim before the judge begins the decision of a judgment or a jury begins deliberation. The following losses are typically included in special damages awarded in a personal injury claim:

  • Lost wages and loss of earning capacity
  • Medical expenses, both past and future
  • Loss of irreplaceable items
  • Personal care costs
  • Cost of living with a disability
  • Funeral costs associated with the death of a loved one

Example of Special Damages

Suppose someone runs a red light in front of you and causes a car accident. You are injured in the accident and your new car is destroyed. An ambulance takes you to the nearest hospital where you are treated for your injury in the emergency room.

In this case, since the other driver caused the accident, you are probably eligible to collect compensatory damages. The special damages would include any expenses you have related to the accident and your injury such as:

  • Medical expenses: These include the cost of the ambulance ride, the bill from the emergency room, and the bill from the emergency room doctor
  • Property damage expenses: Can include the cost of having your car towed away from the accident and the cost of replacing your totaled car

Calculating a Special Damages Amount

Special damages are easier to calculate than general damages because there is a specific amount that the plaintiff has either paid or lost due to the injury. It is critically important to keep receipts and other documents for calculating special damages.

Evaluating Settlement Offers

You and your personal injury attorney must evaluate any settlement offers you receive and decide whether they are fair. Your attorney can help you differentiate general damages vs special damages and file the right type of claim. After looking at the settlements, you can decide to take your case to trial for a jury to decide on the damages.

Final Word: General Damages vs Special Damages

If you have been wrongfully injured and think you have a claim for personal injury, contact our knowledgeable and experienced attorney Hank Doyle. With personal injury attorneys in Wake Forest and Cary, we serve a wide community around Raleigh. We have been working with this process and have helped hundreds of clients get the compensation they are entitled to since 1995. Call us at  (984) 235-1067 or fill out the contact form below to learn more about general damages vs special damages and schedule a legal consultation regarding your situation.

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