In 2002 Stella Liebeck was awarded $2 million in a lawsuit against McDonald’s Corporation for injuries she received from coffee. In the same year a jury awarded Betty Bullock $28 billion on a lawsuit against Phillip Morris after she developed lung cancer from smoking. In October 2013 train conductor Sean M. Nelson was awarded $2 million for emotional damage he suffered following a derailment. We have all heard about cases where plaintiffs received multi-million or multi-billion dollar damages awards personal injury lawsuits. However, as a Kansas City personal injury attorney points out, there are also many cases in which an award is well under a million dollars. Many cases settle for less than $10,000. Such cases rarely receive media attention.
Personal injury lawsuits should not be viewed as “hitting the lottery.” The law allows victims to sue wrongdoers in an effort for the victims to receive fair compensation for injuries suffered. Thus, the amount that a victim is likely to be awarded in a personal injury lawsuit depends on the fact of that victim’s particular case.
Types of Damages
There are several different types of damages that a judge or jury can award a plaintiff. The amount that will ultimately be awarded largely depends on the extent of the victim’s losses.
Medical expenses include the cost of the ambulance ride, emergency room treatment, the hospital stay, treatment and consultation from physicians, therapist and other medical professionals. It also includes the cost of prescriptions and equipment such as assistive technology and therapeutic devices. Plaintiff would have to produced bills to prove these expenses and will be award the amount billed or paid.
Future Medical Expenses
With some injuries medical care and therapy continues for weeks, months, and even years into the future. Such expenses are compensable. Expert testimony would likely be necessary to provide evidence of the expected costs of future treatment.
The defendant is also responsible for compensating the victim for any damage caused to property. For example, in a car accident, the victim will be awarded the reasonable cost to repair or replace the victim’s damaged vehicle.
Pain and Suffering
Under Missouri law a victim who suffers an injury can recover damages for both the physical and emotional suffering that he or she endured. In cases with large damage awards, pain and suffering typically is the bulk of the award. The legislatures of some jurisdictions, including Missouri, have made efforts to place a cap on pain and suffering awards. A Kansas City personal injury attorney points out that while there was once a statutory cap of $350,000 for pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases, the court have invalidated the cap in certain types of medical malpractice cases.
Victims can also receive compensation for the value of any waves missed as a result of the accident. In addition, courts can award victims loss of future earnings, or loss of future earning capacity where due to his or her injury the victim will no longer be able to earn the amount of money previously earned.
Punitive damages are occasionally awarded in cases where the actions of the defendant that caused the victim’s injuries, were so egregious that the court feels that defendant needs to be “punished.”
An experienced attorney will be able to estimate the amount of money that a plaintiff may be awarded if he or she prevails in the lawsuit or if the case settles. However, the jury or the judge will ultimately make the decision as to the amount of the award.
Limiting Personal Injury Awards
There has been much discussion over the years over unfair and excessive jury awards. Some blame high awards as part of the reason that insurance rates have skyrocketed. Do you think that legislatures should cap noneconomic awards not only in medical malpractice cases, but in all personal injury cases?
I received a great deal of help on this article from Jacob Masters, who is a freelance writer and author and has worked in the health industry for over a decade.