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Car Accident Claims: What Are Special Damages?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Damages, in general, refer to the money awarded in a successful civil case. In personal injury cases, compensatory damages are designed to put the aggrieved party in the same financial condition -- or as close to it as possible -- as he or she was before the injury.

You may have also heard the term "special damages," which are a subset of compensatory damages. Here's a breakdown of what special damages are and how to recover them after a car accident.

Special Damages

In car accident cases, damages are split into two categories:

  1. Special Damages: Money that would cover medical expenses, damage to the car, and the loss of income now and in the future; and
  2. General Damages: Money for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of consortium.

This terminology seems a little backwards, since emotional distress may only occur in special cases, whereas vehicle damage happens all of the time. But an easy way to remember might be to replace "special" with "specific" -- special damages are based on specific, measurable dollar amounts of actual loss, while general damages are for intangible or less dollar-specific losses.

(Special Note: In contract disputes, these definitions are reversed, with general damages referring to specific monetary issues like contract and market prices, and special damages referring to less-specific issues like lost profits from possible future contracts.)

Recovering Special Damages

The first step to recovering special damages is to prove them. You can use receipts from paid medical bills or car repair bills (or the bills themselves), as well as medical and employment records demonstrating the extent of your injuries and how much time you missed at work. Often, special damages are described as "sum certain" because they can be specifically calculated, even before a trial begins.

Because special damages in car accident claims are more easily proven, they are often easier to recover. That said, injury lawsuits can be complicated, and the only way to know what damages you might get is to contact an experienced personal injury attorney about your case. If you've been in a serious car accident, contact a lawyer near you today.

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