Most often, damages awarded to a victim after a truck accident are compensatory damages. They are meant to put the victim in the position in which they would have been had the accident not happened. While this is not literally possible, damages may compensate a victim for both economic and non-economic forms of harm. Economic damages usually account for financial costs that are reasonably quantifiable, while non-economic damages account for intangible harm that is more subjective.
Some states impose damages caps in personal injury lawsuits. However, these caps apply only to non-economic damages, so a victim can recover the full scope of their economic damages regardless of the amount.
Common examples of economic damages include medical bills, lost income, and property damage. If a victim has sustained permanent disabilities or other injuries that will require future treatment, they can recover these damages as well. They also can recover damages for lost earning capacity if their injuries prevent them from continuing in their job. Meanwhile, non-economic damages account for pain and suffering and emotional distress caused by the accident. If a victim cannot continue pursuing activities that were important to them before the accident, they can recover compensation for their lost enjoyment of life.
Although they are not typical in most states, punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages in some cases. These are meant to punish a defendant and deter other similarly situated parties. Getting punitive damages usually requires proving serious misconduct by a defendant, such as gross negligence, recklessness, or intent. Punitive damages may be significantly greater than compensatory damages. However, the US Supreme Court has found that the Due Process Clause of the Constitution generally requires punitive damages to be less than 10 times the amount of the compensatory damages in a case. States may impose additional restrictions.
A situation that may trigger punitive damages is a DUI accident or any other situation in which alcohol or drug use contributed to a crash.
Wrongful Death Damages
When an accident causes a tragic loss of life, the estate and family members of a victim may recover damages. The estate may recover damages that the victim could have recovered if they had survived the accident. (Thus, these claims are often known as “survival actions.”) Depending on the circumstances, these may include the costs of medical treatment before death, any lost income, and any conscious pain and suffering that can be proved. Sometimes the estate can recover burial and funeral expenses as well.
Meanwhile, the family members of the victim can pursue wrongful death damages. These usually include any financial support that they would have received from the victim. In addition, family members may be able to recover damages based on their relationship with the victim, such as the loss of consortium and household services for a spouse or the loss of guidance for minor children. State laws define who can receive wrongful death damages and which types of damages may be available. As with ordinary personal injury lawsuits, punitive damages may be awarded in some cases.
Cases Involving the Fault of Multiple Parties
Sometimes a victim contributed to an accident, which will affect the process of calculating damages. States take three different approaches to this situation:
Pure comparative negligence: damages are reduced in proportion to the fault of the victim
Modified comparative negligence: damages are reduced in proportion to the fault of the victim, but barred entirely if their fault reaches a certain percentage (usually 50 or 51 percent)
Contributory negligence: damages are barred if the victim was at fault to any degree
Only four states and the District of Columbia use the contributory negligence doctrine. A victim thus will be able to recover some damages in most states unless they were primarily at fault.
In other situations, multiple defendants may have been responsible for an accident to varying degrees. What if one of the defendants cannot pay their share of the damages? Some states allow a victim to recover their full amount of damages from any at-fault defendant that can pay. Other states apply this joint and several liability rule only if certain requirements are met. Still other states apply several liability, allowing a victim to recover damages from a defendant only in proportion to their degree of fault.