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Basic Personal Injury Terms Defined

03.19.15

There is a lot of lingo involved in the legal business that might seem obvious to lawyers, but is often clear as mud to non-lawyers. Below are some terms defined.

tort: this is the action that is involved in a personal injury case. If I run a red light and hit your car, I have committed a tort. This leads to the next term.

civil v. criminal action: If I hit your car with my car, you the plaintiff will have a cause of action against me, the defendant in a civil case. Now, if I had been drinking and driving, then the state of Ohio will have a criminal case against me the defendant. Both legal situations arose from the same event, my car hitting your car. The civil case may result in money paid to you. The criminal case may result in some kind of punishment against me by the State.

plaintiff: in a personal injury case, the plaintiff is the person who was hurt or harmed in someway by the defendant. In my car example, you would be the plaintiff. Your car was damaged by my car. I would be the defendant.

remedy: if you have an injury or accident you go to a doctor to get medical care. The goal being to get better or get back to your original healthy state. You break a leg, you wear a cast for a period of time, and then your leg heals. You get cancer, you undergo chemotherapy, and hopefully the cancer goes into remission. For a personal injury claim, the remedy is the recovery of the money you lost as a result of the injury or accident.

damages: in a personal injury claim, this is money. Similar to when you go to get your car fixed and ask the mechanic, “what’s the damage”, “hey buddy, it will cost $1000 to fix your care.” There are different kind of damages, economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.

economic-damages: these are the type of damages that are easily quantifiable in terms of money. Some examples of economic damages include medical expenses, rehabilitative services, lost wages, and any other expenditures incurred as a result of an injury.

past/present/future economic-damages: The hospital bill repairing your leg is a past or present economic-damages. But suppose you were paralyzed. Certainly there are past and current bills related to your medical care, but you will also need medical care far into the future. These are future economic-damages.

non-economic damages: these are non-pecuniary damages, which is another way of saying these are damages not easily quantifiable in terms of money. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, mental suffering, etc. For example suppose in the car accident it took months of rehabilitation to recover. You could be compensated for the pain you endured. Also you may not have been able to have sexual relations with your partner, this is loss of consortium. Another example of a non-economic damage is if a parent dies, the deceased parent’s child would never get to play with her dead parent, be tutored by that parent, or be taken down the aisle by her deceased father. This is a non-economic damage, the love and care of a parent is priceless and not easily quantifiable in terms of money.

Ohio’s Tort Reform Limitations on non-economic damages: in Ohio, non-economic damages are capped so that a plaintiff’s recovery for non-economic damages shall not exceed the greater of $250,000 OR three times the economic loss up to a maximum of $350,000. For example, suppose your economic damages were $50,000, then your maximum recovery for non-economic damages would be $250,000. Another example, your economic damages total $100,000, then the maximum recovery for non-economic damages would be $300,000 (three times the economic damages, not to exceed $350,000).

Ohio Tort Reform, NO CAP on non-economic damages when: the plaintiff has a permanent physical injury, loss of the use of a limb, or a permanent physical injury that prevents the plaintiff from taking care of herself and performing life-sustaining activities.

punitive damages: traditionally in personal injury law, the court has been reluctant to punish folks for damages that result from a tort. The goal is to make the plaintiff whole. Punitive damages are a special type of damage that is basically intended as a punishment. In Ohio there must be actual malice to award punitive damages. Malice can be shown where a person acts in a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of other persons that has a great probability of causing substantial harm.

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