Damages for negligence constitutes court-ordered compensation for personal injury, property damage, and associated expenses caused by the negligence of another person.

What Is Negligence?

When a person acts carelessly and another person, or his or her property, is injured or damaged by the court, this is legally considered negligence. As a result, the person who was negligent will be legally required to compensate the injured party for damages. This concept usually arises in cases involving car accidents and other types of personal injury.

Four elements must be proven by the plaintiff for negligence to be established:

  • The circumstances create a legal duty between the defendant and the plaintiff. Sometimes, this is created by the nature of the relationship, such as doctor/patient. Other times, it hinges on the expected conduct of a person in public, such as someone driving an automobile.
  • This duty was breached when the defendant acted or did not act in a specific way. The court considers whether a "reasonably prudent person" would take the same actions as the defendant; if not, he or she was likely negligent.
  • The action or failure to act on the part of the defendant caused the injury or damage in question. For example, if you were texting and driving and hit a parked car, you would be found negligent. If nothing happened despite these irresponsible actions, legal negligence does not exist. In addition, if the defendant may have reasonably expected his or her actions to potentially cause an injury, this could constitute causation. Causation is not likely when an unexpected natural occurrence such as weather played a role in the injury.
  • Injury or harm resulted.

Types of Damages

  • Nominal damages are awarded when a plaintiff was not injured but was legally wronged. This situation is rare because negligence cases usually require proof of injury.
  • Compensatory damages are paid for actual injuries suffered, designed to return the plaintiff to the same situation he or she was in before the negligence in question occurred. Sometimes compensatory damages are categorized by intangible and tangible losses.
    • Tangible losses are those that are simply calculated. For example, tangible damages for personal injury include all medical expenses associated with the injury (including those projected for the future) as well as lost wages both current and projected. Property damage is calculated either by the difference of the property's market value before and after the incident in question, or by the actual value of the property. The category also covers the loss of use of the property while it is being repaired or replaced (the cost of a rental car, for example).
    • Intangible losses are those without a specific cost attached, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, and other mental health-related effects that damage the plaintiff's quality of life. The jury is typically responsible for establishing the value of intangible losses as guidelines for these calculations do not exist.
  • Loss of consortium compensates the spouse of an injured person for the loss of companionship and services they suffered because of the injury. This is based on the jury's observations and not calculated based on the value of hiring a babysitter, house cleaner, or lawn mower.
  • Punitive damages are awarded if the defendant's actions are proved to be reckless, wanton, or purposeful, meaning the person acted in complete disregard of others' safety. They are not designed to compensate the plaintiff but to discourage others from committing these types of acts. The amount is dictated by the legal doctrine from which the claim arose. Some states use a guideline for punitive damages, such as three times the actual recovery amount. In other states, the jury is left to decide based on factors such as culpability level, the severity of harm, the extent to which the plaintiff shared responsibility, past conduct by the defendant, whether he or she profited from the conduct in question, and punitive damages awarded in similar cases.

Calculating Damages

In addition to actual costs, factors the jury may account for when calculating damages can include permanent injury, disfigurement, shortened life expectancy, psychological trauma, depression, sexual dysfunction, anxiety and apprehension, and loss of enjoyment of life.

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