Common Legal Terms in Personal Injury Law

The word “damages” is the official legal term for money awarded as compensation for injuries or lost resources and time.

Broadly speaking, there are two types: general damages, also called direct damages, refer to compensation for unavoidable complications from an accident (e.g., feeling pain, losing time with family and work).

Special damages are the economic costs of trying to correct general damages (so medical costs as opposed to the broken leg). This glossary of personal injury terms is a generic list of the types of damages regularly involved in a personal injury claim:

Disfigurement: Negative alteration (deformation, scars, mutilation) of a plaintiff’s appearance. Sometimes legally considered a type of mental anguish.

Emotional Distress: Painful emotions and thoughts (like terror, embarrassment, or shock) experienced because the negligence of others. Also called Mental Anguish.

Future Medical Expenses: Care that hasn’t happened yet (like CT scans to prove a treatment is working), but is both needed and directly caused by the injury the plaintiff received from the defendant.

Future Lost Profits: The inability to collect reasonably assured future profits—that is, potential profits that could have been earned from the date of the trial onward.

Goodwill: Injury to a brand or a business’s trustworthiness in the eyes of customers and potential customers. Diminishes values of promises and warranties.

Household services: The cost of hiring somebody to do the daily maintenance required by life that the plaintiff is unable to do because of their injury. Sometimes legally treated as a medical expense.

Loss of Consortium: Typically claimed by the spouse of the injured party, loss of consortium is the inability to participate in the minor and major joys of being married because of how your life’s been changed by your injury. Includes loss of affection, comfort, physical and emotional aid, social compatibility, and sex.

Loss of Consortium of a Child: The inability for parents to maintain motherly and fatherly relationships with their children do to a child’s injury.

Loss of Society and Companionship: A damage specifically related to wrongful death. This is the loss of the community and love as felt by the family of the departed.

Lost Earning Capacity: A plaintiff’s reduced ability to work (for example, a guitarist who injures his fingers). May be recovered if the plaintiff proves that his or her ability to earn money in the future has been impaired or diminished by the injuries the defendant caused.  Also known as: Diminished Earning Capacity.

Lost Profits: If the plaintiff’s business was demonstrably profitable prior to injury and wasn’t as profitable after the injury.

Lost Wages: The amount of income not earned (days of work missed, etc.) due to injury. Unemployed individuals must demonstrate they could have earned if they had not be injured.

Medical Expenses: An injury is expensive: doctors’ consultations, hospital stays, testing fees, using extremely advanced machines, emergency room treatment, ambulance fees, nursing services, and more. It’s the duty of the plaintiff to demonstrate the medical expenses are tied to his or her injury.

Medical Monitoring or Surveillance: The costs associated with observing the plaintiff once he or she has been exposed to a hazardous substance that is likely to cause or encourage a disease.

Pain and Suffering: The literal experience of pain, both present and future. The intensity of pain in a given situation is determined by a jury, or what a jury would reasonably determine its intensity to be.

Parasitic Damages: This is a fairly specialized form of damages. It’s the infliction of reasonable belief, or fear, that harm will come based on the negligence of others. The development of a life-threatening disease after receiving a wound might qualify.

Permanent Disability: A permanent limitation on an individual’s movement, senses, and activities. Plaintiffs must be assessed by a medical professional to demonstrate.

Present Cash Value: The loss of the current worth of an investment or future sum of money based on the injury.

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