Perhaps no issue in civil litigation in Will County and elsewhere in Illinois is as misunderstood as the topic of damages. People are constantly hearing about multi-million dollar verdicts; they frequently assume that winning a lawsuit for damages is akin to winning the lottery. This assumption is false. A review of the law of damages with a few examples will illustrate the point.
The general rule
A person can recover damages only for an injury or loss that was proved at trial. The jury cannot speculate or award damages that are not proved. (Whether an element of damages has been proved depends upon whether the party seeking damages has proved the element by a preponderance of the evidence.)
Disability as an element of damages provides an instructive example. A person may suffer a serious injury, such as a compound fracture of a leg. Even though the injury may have a serious and immediate disabling impact on the victim, the jury cannot assume that the injury will lead to disability in the future unless the plaintiff provides evidence of the likelihood of future disability. Such evidence is usually presented in the form of testimony from an expert physician or rehabilitation specialist. If no evidence of a future disability has been presented to the jury, the judge will ordinarily tell the jury to disregard any argument or claims by the plaintiff for damages cause by future disability.
A plaintiff may recover damages for past and future medical expenses by presenting the invoices from health care providers for medical care actually provided and estimates from physicians or other experts about the likely amount of future expenses. A person can recover damages for temporary and permanent disfigure if evidence of such losses are proved by a preponderance of the evidence. A plaintiff may recover damages for past pain and suffering caused by the defendant’s negligence and for anticipated future pain and suffering that is reasonably certain to occur. Emotional distress actually experienced by the plaintiff and future emotional distress that is reasonably likely to occur is also a compensable injury.
The subject of damages that may be recovered in a civil trial is lengthy and complex. Anyone who is considering making a claim for damages should consult an experienced personal injury attorney for an evaluation of the evidence and an estimate of the likely recovering in the case.