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What are Future Damages in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

| Apr 6, 2015 | Personal Injury

In the event that you have suffered a personal injury due to the negligent act of another, you may be able to recover future damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Damages are simply monetary compensation for that injury. Damages play a major part in civil personal injury lawsuits; they work to compensate the party that, “suffers detriment from the unlawful act or omission of another.”

California law provides for the compensation to injured victims for both (1) damage awards for detriment already suffered and (2) damage awards for detriment certain to suffer in the future. Thus, an injured person may recover damages that are “certain to result in the future.”

The key portion is that the future damages must be “reasonably certain” to result. It is against the law for the damages to be imaginary, remote, or a mere possibility; the law requires that these future damages be “reasonably certain to occur.”  For example, if an injured party may possible need surgery sometime in the future, compensation would only be permitted if a doctor could testify that the future surgery is reasonably certain to occur.  If it is only a mere possibility, compensation will not be recoverable for future surgery in the personal injury claim.

The law allows for future damages awards because a person is generally limited to only one legal action for each accident. You only get one bite of the apple. Therefore, in order to allow for the future effects of the injury, and to allow a person to be compensated for future impacts of an injury, the law allows for the recovery of future damages.

The following is a list of potential awards which may be available as future damages.

  • Future Physical Pain and Suffering: If you were rear-ended on the highway in a car accident, and suffered a significant back injury, then the future damages award, may include long-term back pain associated with this back injury.
  • Future Mental Suffering: This is distinct from future physical pain and refers to future mental or psychological anguish related to the injury. For example, let’s assume you were hit by a car while crossing a busy intersection, and you suffered significant fractures to both legs, your hips and your back. Future mental suffering may relate to the anxiety, depression or anguish you endure related to this traumatic incident and an award for future damages may include compensation for this future mental suffering.
  • Loss of Future Earnings: Future loss of earnings refers to your inability to work for a period of time in the future, or permanently, as a result of the injury you have sustained. To put it more simply, ask yourself what would I have earned if the injury had not occurred? Would I have been promoted had this injury not occurred? Would I still be working for my employer had the injury not occurred?
  • Impairment of Future Earning Capacity: This is directly related to the concept of loss of future earnings, but applies to situations where a person’s earning capacity is permanently impaired as a result of the injury. This may relate to an award where an individual was not employed at the time of the injury, but as a result of the injury, will not be able to pursue the career they were planning on pursuing. An example of impairment of future earning capacity award occurred where a teenage camp counselor was injured while working for the defendant. The camp counselor was able to prove that she intended to eventually become a teacher of students with mental and physical disabilities. At the time of the injury, the camp counselor was not working as a teacher, however, she was awarded compensation for this impairment of future earning capacity. The court reasoned that her injuries created a reasonable inference that her future earning capacity would be negatively impacted and that she would be unable to pursue this teaching career as if the injury had not happened.
  • Future Medical Expenses: If, as a result of the injury, you can prove you are likely to incur future medical expenses, including, expenses related to care, services, or supplies, then you may be able to recover these expenses under future damages.

These are only a handful of future damage awards which may be available. The specific damages available depend upon the specific circumstances of your personal injury case.

For a free consultation with a San Diego personal injury attorney ready to help you protect your interests, please call Martinez & Schill LLP today at our San Diego office 619-512-5995, or our Riverside office 951-200-4630.  You can also email us at [email protected].