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What is Personal Injury Compensation

The law of damages controls what is compensable following a personal injury like a car accident.  Damages include your medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, scarring or disfigurement, loss of use, permanent injury, and punitive damages.  There is another subset of damages for wrongful death claims.  Punitive damages will be covered in another article.

The first element of damages is medical expenses.  The jury instruction for medical expenses is as follows:

Medical expenses include all [hospital] [doctor] [drug] bills reasonably [incurred] [to be incurred in the future] by the plaintiff as a proximate result of the negligence of the defendant. N.C.P.I. MV 106.04 personal injury Damages -- Medical Expenses (North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions for Motor Vehicle Negligence Cases

Typically, the fight in medical expenses deals with proximate cause.  Proximate cause addresses the relationship between the medical treatment, injury and the car accident itself.  Many times the defense argues that the accident was not the cause of the Plaintiff’s injury.  The jury is required to find that the Plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the accident to award the Plaintiff compensation for said medical expenses.  Further, the expenses must be found reasonable by the jury. 

The second element of damages is pain and suffering.  The jury instruction for pain and suffering is as follows:

Damages for personal injury also include fair compensation for the actual [past] [present] [future] physical pain and mental suffering experienced by the plaintiff as a proximate result of the negligence of the defendant. There is no fixed formula for placing a value on physical pain and mental suffering. You will determine what is fair compensation by applying logic and common sense to the evidence. N.C.P.I. MV 106.08 personal injury Damages--pain and Suffering. (North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions for Motor Vehicle Negligence Cases.

Along with medical bills, this is one of the most well know compensable damages.  Of note, the jury can award compensation for past, present and future pain and suffering.  The value will depend upon the medical treatment, severity of the injury and the testimony of the plaintiff and plaintiff’s physicians.  What is surprising to many people is that the judge instructs the jury that there is no rule, or book, or third party to turn to, to value pain and suffering.  The jury will be instructed to use their common sense.  As such, no two juries hearing the same evidence will rule the same way.  Many times the value of a case comes down to the jury that hears the case.  Again, the jury is also required to find proximate cause between the pain and suffering alleged and the car accident.

The third element of damages is lost wages.  The jury instruction for lost wages is as follows:

Damages for personal injury also include fair compensation for the past, present, or future loss of time from employment, loss from inability to perform ordinary labor, or the reduced capacity to earn money experienced by the plaintiff as a proximate result of the negligence of the defendant.

The jury is instructed to consider a number of factors in determining the Plaintiff lost wage claim. These factors include the plaintiff's age and occupation, the nature and extent of the plaintiff's employment, the value of the plaintiff's services, the amount of the plaintiff's income, at the time of his injury, from salary, wages or other compensation, the effect of the plaintiff's disability or disfigurement on his earning capacity, the plaintiff's loss of profits from his business or profession and the loss of capacity to earn money] N.C.P.I. MV 106.06 Personal Injury Damages--loss of Earnings. (North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions for Motor Vehicle Negligence Cases

Again, as in medical expenses the jury is required to find proximate cause.  Therefore, missing work is not enough to be compensated for lost wages.  The jury must find a causal nexus between the missed work and the car accident.   It is highly suggested that clients get written out of work by their medical providers.  While a doctor’s opinion does not guarantee repayment of lost wages, it is extremely helpful.

The fourth element of damages is scarring or disfigurement.  The jury instruction for scarring or disfigurement is as follows:

Damages for personal injury also include fair compensation for [scarring] [disfigurement] of the plaintiff as a proximate result of the negligence of the defendant. There is no fixed formula for placing a value on [disfigurement]. You must determine what is fair compensation by applying logic and common sense to the evidence. N.C.P.I. MV 106.10 Personal Injury Damages--scarring or Disfigurement. (North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions for Motor Vehicle Negligence Cases.

The judge will instruct the jury that they can consider the extent of any past, present or future alteration of the plaintiff's physical appearance proximately caused by the negligence of the defendant, the extent of any past, present, future embarrassment and mental suffering proximately caused by the negligence of the defendant.    The issue with this jury instruction is that the judge will limit its utility by instructing the jury that the plaintiff cannot recover twice for the same damage.  For example, if the jury has already considered the plaintiff’s embarrassment from their scar in pain and suffering, they should not award him the same dollar amount in scarring or disfigurement. 

The fifth element of damages is loss of use of part of the body.  The jury instruction for loss of use of part of the body is as follows:

Damages for personal injury also include fair compensation for the (partial) loss of (use of) (identify part of body affected) experienced by the plaintiff as a proximate result of the negligence of the defendant. There is no fixed formula for placing a value on the (partial) loss (of use) of part of the body. You must determine what is fair compensation by applying logic and common sense to the evidence.  N.C.P.I. MV 106.12 personal injury Damages--loss (Of Use) of Part of the Body. (North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions for Motor Vehicle Negligence Cases.

The judge will instruct the jury that they can consider the extent of any past, present or future disability or handicap proximately caused by the negligence of the defendant, any inconvenience or hardship proximately caused by the negligence of the defendant.

Like scarring and disfigurement, the judge will instruct the jury that they cannot award double damages for the same injury. 

The last element of damages is permanent injury.  The jury instruction for permanent injury is as follows:

Damages for personal injury also include fair compensation for permanent injury.  An injury is permanent when any of its effects will continue throughout the plaintiff's life.

The judge will instruct the jury that the effects they can consider include medical expenses, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, scarring or disfigurement, partial) loss (of use) of part of the body.  Permanent injury is limited by the double recovery instruction found in the other damages instructions.  However, the jury is able to look out over the Plaintiff’s lifetime to award them money.  Therefore, the plaintiff must present evidence of their expected life expectancy.  This is done through the introduction of life expectancy tables.   These tables show that for someone of the plaintiff's present age what his life expectancy is.  Of course, the jury is not required to accept the tables as fact and can also use their common sense.

The law of damages is very complex.  If you or a loved one was injury in an accident please call us.  You will speak directly with a lawyer who can answer your questions. There is no fee for an initial consultation. 

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