Damages in vehicle accidents are considered make-whole remedies

Several types of damages available in car accidents

This week's question comes from Daniel, who asks:

Q: “I am a musician, and I was in a car accident last month. It was the other guy's fault and a lot of my musical equipment was ruined. They have to pay for my car, right? What else am I entitled to? Can I get my guitar replaced?”

A: Daniel, this is a good question and it brings up many important issues. In this article, I will address what types of damages are recoverable in an auto accident case. It is not as simple as it may seem.

In general, the damages recoverable in a motor vehicle accident are considered make-whole remedies. The idea, in theory, is to put a person in the position he or she would have been in had the accident not occurred. Obviously, that can become a complicated calculus, and generally, nobody would trade what happened to them for the remedies they receive from a lawsuit.

The first category of damages is called special damages or economic damages. They can be thought of the financially calculable losses suffered — your out-of-pocket expenses. This includes the property damage resulting from an accident such as the cost of repairing the vehicle or, if it is totaled, the value of the vehicle. Property damage also includes any other damaged property — cellphones, clothing or, in your case, the band equipment that was destroyed or damaged. Unfortunately, the value recoverable is not the value of a new item, such as a cellphone, but the value of a cellphone as old as the one that was damaged. Though that calculation can work in a person's favor if say the guitar that was ruined in the accident was a '59 Fender Telecaster. You would be entitled to the value of the vintage guitar, not the much less valuable new model.

There are other significant areas of special damages. Wage loss is one. A person is entitled to recover the value of the time they miss from work. If a person works for an hourly wage and misses a certain number of hours, that amount is fairly easily to calculate and is recoverable. Sometimes, injuries are so severe that a person's actual ability to earn a living in the future is affected by accident-related injuries. Those damages are also recoverable, but can be much more difficult to prove.

Another important item of special damages are medical expenses. Not only is the co-pay recoverable, but the entire amount paid by insurance. Though, there are complications in this area that will be the subject of a future article.

The second area of recoverable damage is general damages, or noneconomic damages. This is commonly referred to as pain and suffering or emotional distress. There is no way to connect a computer to somebody's head and have it spit out a value for that type of damage, so it is much more difficult to calculate. General damage can be thought of as the actual pain felt, the inconvenience, embarrassment and changes to one's sense of self that are the result of an accident. There is one important limitation to being able to recover general damages: An uninsured driver who is a victim of the negligence of another driver is not allowed to collect these noneconomic damages. This is an important reason to maintain auto insurance and make sure any vehicle you drive is insured, though a passenger in the uninsured car would be still be allowed to collect these damages. Understand that this article is by no means a complete list of what is recoverable, but is merely a brief outline of the main categories of damages recoverable in an automobile accident.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

car accidentcar collisionChristopher DolanFeaturesvehicle crash

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