Can I Recover for Future Pain and Suffering and Damages in an Injury Case?
Yes, future pain and suffering and other damages can be recovered in an injury case. While the answer to this question is simple, proving such damages is more complicated.
What Happens with Respect to Proving Damages in an Injury Case?
When an injury case is brought, the plaintiff (the person injured) will have only one chance to seek all damages to which she may be entitled, which may include both past and future damages. There is no opportunity to later “re-open” a case if certain future damages were not taken into account at trial, or if the future damages turned out to be much greater than anticipated.
In general, damages fall into two categories – economic damages, and non-economic damages.
Economic damages consist of matters such as the value of a totaled car, medical expenses, lost wages, costs for rehabilitation, and other types of expenses. Past economic damages typically are fairly defined. For instance, the value of past medical bills will be known at the time of a trial, and the value of a totaled vehicle can be fairly easily ascertained (at least within a defined range).
Non-economic damages consist of matters such as pain and suffering, potential punitive damages, and loss of lifestyle enjoyment (sometimes referred to as “loss of consortium”). These types of damages are much harder to define. Two people, for instance, could have vastly different ideas about how much a victim may be entitled to for pain and suffering in an injury case.
While the components for past damages will be known at the time of a trial, future damage components will be much less clear. For instance, will the constant back pain currently being suffered by an injury victim go away in another year or so, or will it get worse? Will additional surgery be required? Will back pain force the injured person to quit their job and accept a lower-paying job that will provide lower wages? Or will they become unemployable?
As experienced Seattle injury lawyers, our role is to understand all potential future costs and damages, in part through retaining experts when necessary, so that we can make the full claim for our clients for damages.
For instance, when a medical expert is retained, the expert may opine that in their professional opinion, the back injury suffered by an injury victim is likely to become worse, and that back surgery will be necessary. This expert can also testify that because the injury victim’s current occupation requires significant standing, walking, and lifting, that following the surgery, the injury victim will no longer be able to work in their current occupation.
Next, based upon the expert’s view that surgery will be necessary, the likely timing and expense of such surgery will need to be determined. This same medical expert may be able to provide these answers, or another medical cost expert may be required. The medical expert could also provide his or her opinion regarding the pain and suffering likely to be endured by the accident victim, both in connection with the surgery and thereafter.
Since the victim will be unlikely to work in their current occupation, vocational and economic experts may then be needed to provide evidence as to possible other lower-paying jobs that may be suitable for the accident victim’s abilities. Alternatively, it may also be the case that either there may not be any suitable work alternatives, or that the age of the accident victim at that time may make it highly unlikely that he or she would be hired.
Based upon this information, an economic expert would then be needed to quantify the amount of lost wages that likely would be suffered by the accident victim.
What Must Be Proven to Recover for Future Damages?
At trial, the standard that must be proven to recover for future damages is “more likely than not.” In the example above, for instance, expert testimony can be used to prove that “more likely than not” back surgery would be needed, the degree of pain and suffering likely to be endured, and the fact that following back surgery, the injury victim is likely to be unemployable based on age, physical limitations, and other factors. The defense would likely seek to counter these claims by introducing expert testimony that conflicts with the testimony offered by the plaintiff’s team.
If a trial ensues, then it would be up to a jury to determine which experts are to be believed, and then make an award in accordance with this determination. In this sense, future damages are often an “all or nothing” award; either the jury believes that the back surgery will be likely (and thus the victim will be entitled to all of the corresponding damages), or that the surgery won be necessary (and that the victim is not entitled to the damages).
Most injury cases, however, are settled before trial. In these instances, future damage matters are determined as part of the settlement process upon agreement by the parties.
Usually, settlements typically involve one lump-sum payment, particularly as defendants will be seeking “finality” with a case. It is possible, however, that payments can be structured, and that some amounts can be placed into escrow accounts for contingent future events (such as the back surgery).
Call Us for a Free Consult to Learn How We Can Help
When we learn about your case, in addition to explaining how we can help, we can also answer any questions that you may have about past and future damages. We accept injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning that we are only entitled to a fee for our services if we can successful in obtaining compensation.