Personal Injury Claims and the 3 Types of Damages

Personal Injury Claims and the 3 Types of Damages

General, Special and Punitive Damages

There are three types of damages in personal injury claims: special, general, and punitive. (General and special damages are often considered together as compensatory damages; meaning damages intended to compensate the injury-victim for his or her injury-related losses.) For the sake of defining the distinct damage categories, let us imagine a hypothetical civil case. 

The plaintiff (the party seeking remedy in court) was driving while the intoxicated defendant, swerved into the plaintiff’s lane and struck her head-on. The plaintiff’s leg was broken, and as a result, she required surgery to place hardware to stabilize the fracture. She suffered the physical pain from the injury, a disfiguring surgical scar and severe anxiety of being hit again, when she is able to resume driving. 

Here are the damages that plaintiff could reasonably expect to be awarded by the court:

  • Special damages (economic losses) are awarded for things which can be easily calculated. These include medical bills and wages the plaintiff has already incurred up to the date of trial, and future medical expense and wage loss the plaintiff can reasonably be expected to be required, for the remainder of her life-expectancy-if she sustained a permanent injury.  
  • In this case, the plaintiff’s medical bills and wage loss (both past and future, if future losses are supported by her physician’s testimony) would  count as special damages. Most juries have little trouble calculating these damage categories, as the medical bills are easily totaled, and wage loss is easily arrived at by multiplying the missed weeks from work by her average weekly wage.  
  • General damages (non-economic damages) are awarded for things which are not easily accounted for, such as the money necessary to compensate her for (past and future)  physical pain, the anxiety she now has when driving, and the embarrassment she feels whenever the surgical scar is visible. These damages, which defy easy accounting, are commonly called “pain and suffering” damages.  

In this case, the pain, emotional distress, anxiety, and embarrassment the plaintiff suffered as the result of the collision could be compensated for by awarding general damages. 

  • Punitive damages are not intended to compensate the plaintiff to “make the plaintiff whole”. Punitive damages are awarded the plaintiff to punish the defendant and deter the defendant and others from drunk driving. 
  • In this case, the state of Minnesota’s no-tolerance policy against drunk driving may compel the judge to allow the jury to consider an award punitive damages to the plaintiff. Interestingly, Minnesota state law does not require the defendant to have been charged with or convicted of a DWI for punitive damages to apply to their case.

Damages Are Awarded for a Wide Range of Personal Injury Claims

We used an auto injury as an example of a personal injury claim in which general, special and punitive damages could all be awarded, but many other types of lawsuits could include multiple types of damages as well. As an example, consider the famous product liability case Grimshaw v. Ford Motor Co. The court awarded the plaintiff $2.5 million in compensatory damages for the death of his mother and the severe burns he suffered as the result of a design flaw in the Pinto’s gas tank. The court also awarded the plaintiff $3.5 million in punitive damages because Ford, (from a multitude of prior-rear-end collision fire cases), was aware of the Pinto’s inability to withstand a rear-end collision, and Ford’s neglect to recall the defectively designed Pinto, despite clear notice of the design defect. 

Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants is frequently cited as an example of a frivolous case, but upon closer scrutiny, makes perfect sense when the true facts are known. In Liebeck, the plaintiff, who was riding as a passenger in her daughter’s car, ordered coffee from a McDonald’s drive through. She asked for cream and the coffee was delivered with the plastic cover in place, requiring her to remove the cover to add the cream. As the vehicle was still stopped, she held the cup between her legs while using her hands to remove the cover. She was badly burned attempting to add cream when she spilled dangerously hot coffee on her lap. 

She sustained serious burns requiring several surgeries to graft healthy skin onto the burn sites. 

Her lawyer obtained records from McDonalds showing that dozens and perhaps hundreds of other customers had been burned by coffee served at a temperature too hot for safe consumption. The lawyer also learned the serving coffee too hot for safe human consumption was a McDonald’s corporate policy. Why? Because McDonald’s had a free coffee refill policy and had determined that free refills were fewer for in-store purchases when the coffee was served too hot; as the typical in-store customer would stay long enough to wait for the extremely hot coffee to cool sufficiently to request a free refill.

Once this information was revealed to the jury, it awarded the plaintiff $160,000 in compensatory damages for the medical care she required upon receiving third-degree burns. However, because the court also determined that McDonald’s had willfully and recklessly served scalding coffee, it allowed the jury decision to award the plaintiff several million dollars in punitive damages, later reduced by the presiding Judge to $480,000 in punitive damages.

If you are the victim of someone else’s negligent, reckless, or malicious conduct in the state of Minnesota, please contact our firm today for a free initial consultation. You may reach us by telephone at (763) 682-1082. Thomas Kiernan has over three decades of experience securing fair compensation for his clients, is certified as a Civil Trial Specialist and is committed to helping you obtain justice.

When is a Retail Store Liable for a Slip and Fall Injury?

When is a Retail Store Liable for a Slip and Fall Injury?

Did you become injured as the result of a slip and fall? Did you fall inside a retail store, or on an exterior sidewalk? Then you may be entitled to compensation for expenses related to your injury. Learn more from our personal injury attorney below.

When Is a Retail Store Liable for a Slip and Fall?

A store or property owner may be held liable for a slip and fall or trip and fall injury if they either create the hazard, or allow it to exist when reasonable care would have led to the hazards discovery – typically a spill or debris on the floor that the management failed to address, or allowing slipping hazards to exist on the walkways. 

The case of Bonnie Gutierrez and Milton Gutierrez v. Stop & Shop provides an example of when a store may be held liable for its patron’s slip and fall injury. The plaintiff was seriously injured as the result of slipping on a grape while shopping at a grocery store. The plaintiff alleged that numerous grapes were present on the floor where she slipped, that the nearby waste basket was overflowing, and that the store was selling unsealed bags of grapes at the time of her injury. The plaintiff’s counsel argued that the store’s management should have known its customers’ careless handling of grapes could create a slipping hazard and taken reasonable precautions against injury. The case was settled out of court for $950,000.

When Is a Retail Store Negligent?

A plaintiff in a negligence lawsuit must establish four elements in order to win: duty, breach of duty, causation and damages.

Bonnie Gutierrez and Milton Gutierrez v. Stop & Shop illustrates all four elements of a negligence lawsuit. The grocery store had a duty to protect its patrons from slipping hazards. The grocery store breached that duty by allowing grapes to accumulate on its floor. A stray grape caused the plaintiff to fall. The plaintiff’s injuries were the direct result of stepping on a grape. Had the case not been settled out of court, it is quite possible the defendant would have been ruled negligent in a court of law.

The key to the case is the ability to prove (through witness testimony or the internal surveillance images of the store) that the dangerous condition existed for a long enough period, that the store either knew of it or in the exercise of reasonable care, would have discovered and remedied the hazard.

What Is a Retail Store Liable for in a Slip and Fall Lawsuit?

Several types of injuries commonly result from slip and fall accidents, including broken bones, hip fractures, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and knee injuries. If a store’s negligence directly resulted in one or more of these injuries, they may be legally obligated to pay for the victim’s medical costs. They may also have to compensate the victim for loss of income they sustained as the result of their injuries, as well as pain and suffering. 

When a wrongful death results from a slip and fall injury, the store may be held liable for medical bills, funeral arrangements, and the loss of the financial support and guidance, advice and companionship suffered by the surviving spouse and family members.  

What Should I Do if I Suffer a Slip and Fall Injury at a Retail Store?

If you fall and become injured at a store, remain calm and seek immediate medical attention. Doing so will not just create the best chance of your full recovery. It will establish credibility should you decide to file a lawsuit.

While you await medical attention, attempt to determine the cause of your fall. Is the floor wet despite the absence of a warning sign? Is there a piece of crushed produce where you were standing? Note the presence of any such slipping hazards. Take photos of the surrounding area if possible, request the security footage of the area where you fell, and get contact information from witnesses as well as anyone who comes to your aid. If you fell on a sidewalk, look for design problems that make the formation of the hazard foreseeable, such as allowing roof runoff to cross a sidewalk.  Make a written request that the store preserve any surveillance video. Frequently, unless an effort is made to preserve them, the images will not be saved. Listen for admissions of the store employees. A store employee may admit things that will be admissible in court such as “I told him/her to clean that up” or “that is where ice always forms”. 

File an official injury report, even if the store’s management does not request you to. Go into the greatest detail possible, and make every effort to be completely accurate. This will also help to establish credibility should you decide to file a lawsuit. In addition to the official injury report, record your own account of the accident as soon as you are able. 

Under no circumstances should you give a recorded statement to the property owner or their insurance provider. If an insurance adjuster calls you, politely decline to make any statement regarding the incident. Likewise, refrain from making any social media posts about the incident. Should you choose to file a personal injury claim, contact a slip and fall attorney as soon as you are able. If you live in or near Buffalo, Minnesota, then we welcome you to contact Kiernan Personal Injury Attorney P.A. (763) 682-1082 today for a free initial consultation and case analysis. We do everything within our power to ensure that our clients receive the compensation they are owed.