Since the goals of tort law are to compensate victims of the harmful acts of another, and to deter the same type of injuries in the future, tort law recognizes a wide variety of recoverable damages. Lost wages, lost future earning capacity, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and rehabilitation expenses can all be awarded to injury victims. Courts may also enjoin the defendant from certain actions or activities to protect the public in the future, such as shutting down a dangerous roller coaster or legally forbidding future sales of a dangerous product. Not all tort remedies involve awards of money.All personal injury lawsuits must be filed within a certain time, or the claim will be barred by law. Each state legislature sets its own deadlines: those living in Tennessee have only one year within which to file some injury lawsuits, while those living in North Dakota may have as many as six years in which to file the same type of claim.
Attorneys practicing personal injury law usually specialize in this area, devoting their practices exclusively to helping injured victims and their families. Sometimes, they focus upon a single personal injury area. For instance, some law firms handle exclusively medical malpractice cases; others handle only motor vehicle accident matters.
Contingent fee contracts are arrangements common to personal injury litigation. Here, the client is not required to pay attorneys’ fees until the case is resolved through settlement or trial; the attorney bears a portion of the risk. What risk? The attorney risks that he will not be paid if the claim is unsuccessful, and in recognition of that risk, a percentage of the award is assigned by the client to the attorney as his contingent fee.
The amount of that percentage can vary from a third to as much as a half of the amount recovered, depending upon the complexity of the case. Contingent fees must be reasonable; unconscionable percentage will be held illegal. Clients who feel that the contingent fee is excessive can sue the attorney for overreaching, and they can file a complaint with the state legal ethics commission.
Most states allow punitive damages as part of the wrongful death claim. Punitive damages are “punishment” damages, designed not to compensate for actual damages of the victim but instead to send a message both to the defendant and others that the conduct at issue is unacceptable in our society. Punitive damages have resulted in safer working conditions and have established standards of care for professionals in a variety of areas, as well as helping to define product safety standards.Another trend developing in state case law, outside of any statute, is the awarding of wrongful death damages when a pet is injured or killed by a person or another animal. These wrongful death cases are gaining respect across the country, with awards being given in the form of economic damages (involving purchase price or replacement value of the animal), as well as budgetary expenses (training costs, breeding costs) and other assorted actual damages. Emotional distress and loss of companionship are also being sought and awarded in significant amounts. Tennessee is already recognizing non-economic damages in these wrongful death cases and 11 state legislatures are considering statutory recognition of them.