A severe personal injury caused by a negligent driver can happen – unexpectedly and abruptly – to virtually anyone. You don’t even have to be in a vehicle – reckless drivers don’t discriminate against pedestrians or bicyclists, and sometimes they crash right into buildings where people presume they are safe. Do you have any legal recourse in the state of Indiana if you are injured by a negligent driver?
You do, and an experienced Evansville car accident attorney can discuss your legal rights and options, which might include filing a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent driver who injures you. Injured victims of negligence in this state are entitled to complete compensation for their injury-related financial losses – medical treatment, lost wages, and all other related expenses.
If you’ve been injured by another person’s negligence – in a car accident or in any other kind of accident – you might ask “How much would a personal injury lawsuit really be worth?” The key to that answer is “damages.” With a personal injury attorney’s help, you’ll have to determine how much financial damage you’ve suffered and combine that with your physical and emotional pain and suffering. Then you’ll have to put a dollar amount on the total of that damage, and you’ll need documentary evidence to prove that the amount of compensation you are asking for is fair and deserved.
When a personal injury lawsuit prevails, monetary damages are received by the injury victim (the plaintiff) and paid by the person or persons deemed liable (that is, at-fault) in the accident, the defendant or the defendant’s auto insurance company. Personal injury lawsuits are usually settled out-of-court before going to trial, but when a defendant will not offer an adequate settlement amount, the case can go to court. When a personal injury lawsuit is successful at trial, a damage award may be ordered by an Indiana jury or judge.
WHAT ARE “COMPENSATORY” DAMAGES?
Most damages in personal injury cases are “compensatory” damages intended to reimburse the plaintiff for economic losses caused by the accident and injury. Compensatory damages are intended to make a victim of negligence “whole” once again, at least financially, as far as possible. This means putting a precise dollar amount on all of the financial ramifications of the collision and the injury or injuries.
Accident victims will have receipts for their medical expenses and automobile repairs, of course, but it’s a bit more difficult to put a precise dollar value on the losses when an accident imposes long-term physical limitations or a permanent disability on an accident victim.
Listed here are the types of compensatory damages that personal injury victims can ask for and usually expect to receive:
Medical costs: Personal injury settlements and verdicts almost always include the cost of the victim’s medical care required by the accident. The amount fully reimburses the victim for treatment received and covers the projected cost of necessary future medical care.
Lost earnings: Settlements and verdicts also compensate injury victims for the wage or salary income they have lost because of the injury and for projected lost future income – the “loss of future earning capacity” – due to the injury.
Property damage: When vehicles, clothes, or other property either inside or outside of the vehicles are damaged because of a traffic crash, the property owners are entitled to be reimbursed for the property’s repair or replacement costs.
Pain and suffering compensation: Accident victims are usually compensated for the pain and discomfort they suffer in a traffic accident and immediately thereafter. If pain attributable to the accident lingers, that pain may also be compensated.
Compensation for emotional distress: Usually associated with severe long-term injuries, an award for emotional distress compensates an injury victim for the psychological damage caused an accident – and manifestations of that damage that may include anxiety, fear, and sleep disorders. In some states and in some personal injury cases, compensation for pain and suffering is combined with the compensation for emotional distress.
Loss of enjoyment: When a victim’s injuries prevent that person from enjoying hobbies, exercise, outdoor pursuits, and other types of recreational activities, the injury victim may be able to receive damages for “loss of the enjoyment of life.”
Loss of consortium: Damages for loss of consortium are paid if the injuries sustained in a traffic accident impair the intimacy between spouses, particularly their sexual intimacy.
WHAT ARE “PUNITIVE” DAMAGES?
When a defendant’s behavior was exceedingly careless or particularly egregious, a personal injury victim may receive punitive damages along with compensatory damages. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not about making the injury victim “whole” in any way. Rather, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for gross negligence and to squelch similar negligent behavior in the future.
However, in the state of Indiana, punitive damages are very rarely – almost never – awarded in personal injury cases. Indiana law additionally caps punitive damage awards at three times the amount awarded for compensatory damages or $50,000, whichever is greater. Personal injury juries in this state are not told about the cap on punitive damages, so sometimes a judge must act to reduce the punitive damage amount that a jury actually awarded to a plaintiff.
DOES A PLAINTIFF’S ROLE IN AN ACCIDENT AFFECT THE AWARD AMOUNT?
If you’re injured in Indiana but the accident was mostly your fault, you can’t even sue for a band-aid. Indiana traffic accident victims cannot recover a cent of damages for any injuries where they had 51 percent (or more) of the responsibility for the accident. Indiana is a “modified comparative fault” state, so accident victims can recover damages in Indiana only when their share of the responsibility for a collision was 50 percent or less, and damages in such cases are reduced by the percentage of the plaintiff’s fault.
For example, let’s say that Maria is legally proceeding through a green light, but she’s speeding – not egregiously given the circumstances, but at five or seven miles per hour over the limit. Let’s say that John, however, crashes into her in the intersection because he was intoxicated, he was driving at thirty miles per hour over the limit, and he ran the red light at the intersection. A jury might decide that Maria’s violation of the speed limit made her 10 percent responsible for the crash, so if her damages total $100,000, what she would actually be awarded is $90,000.
Indiana legislators have amended the rules for personal injury awards a number of times in the past, and changes to the system will continue in the future. Thus, anyone who is injured by a negligent driver in or near the Evansville area should consult at once with an experienced Evansville car accident attorney regarding your rights and your legal options, which may include a personal injury lawsuit.