You cannot hold someone liable for what ‘might’ have happened due to their irresponsible behavior. The law will require you to show sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable estimate of each item of damage you actually suffered. Damages encompass not only your past and future financial losses, but also pain, suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, humiliation, inconvenience, and diminution of earning capacity, and future medical treatment.
Most personal injury damages are classified as “compensatory,” meaning the intent is to compensate the injured person for what they lost due to the accident or injury. Some compensatory damages are relatively easy to compute – such as reimbursement for property damage, medical bills, or lost wages. Other items, like mental anguish, pain and suffering, and diminution of earning capacity, are hard to quantify.
A plaintiff’s lost wages can be calculated using their typical wage multiplied by the number of hours they missed as a result of the accident. Diminution of earning capacity, however, is more difficult to calculate though it is based on the same principles. If a plaintiff suffers a traumatic brain injury and can no longer work in his or her chosen profession, that plantiff is entitled to compensation for that lost opportunity. That means not only receiving compensation for specific past and future lost wages, but also compensation of a more general sort for the loss of the ability to continue in that plantiff’s chosen field.
In addition to compensatory damages, a plaintiff may be entitled to punitive damages, depending on the outrageousness of the defendant’s conduct and the defendant’s conscious disregard for the rights of others. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and act as a deterrent to others.
For example, in an auto accident case where the defendant struck the plaintiff’s vehicle, then backed up and pulled forward attempting to leave the scene and struck the vehicle again, the defendant was subject to punitive damages. He did not intend to cause harm to the plaintiff, but his outrageous conduct in attempting to flee the scene and his conscious disregard for the safety of others made the plaintiff eligible for punitive damages.
A plaintiff must take reasonable steps to mitigate, or minimize, their damages. If, for example, an injured plaintiff makes the injuries worse by failing to get necessary medical treatment, the damage award might be significantly reduced.