What Are Economic Damages?

Economic damages represent tangible losses such as medical expenses. They are one of the two components of a typical personal injury claim. Economic damages are much easier to measure than non-economic damages, and they are much easier to receive than punitive damages. 

If you have suffered a personal injury, your economic damages claim might add up to more than you think they do.

Types of Economic Damages

The most common categories of economic damages in a personal injury claim are medical expenses, lost earnings, out-of-pocket expenses, diminished earning capacity, and property damage.

Medical Expenses

Medical expenses include all reasonable and necessary expenses arising from medical treatment. They do not include unnecessary treatments, and they typically do not include ‘alternative’ treatments such as acupuncture or homeopathy. Some examples follow.

  • Ambulance fees;
  • Consultation fees with specialists;
  • Counseling or therapy sessions (e.g., for trauma or PTSD);
  • Crutches or mobility aids;
  • Diagnostic tests (e.g., X-rays, MRIs, CT scans);
  • Emergency room visits;
  • Follow-up doctor visits;
  • Home healthcare services;
  • Hospital stays;
  • In-home modifications (e.g., wheelchair ramps);
  • Medical devices (e.g., braces, splints);
  • Medical equipment rental (e.g., wheelchairs, hospital beds);
  • Medications (prescription and over-the-counter);
  • Nursing home care;
  • Occupational therapy;
  • Orthopedic treatments;
  • Physical therapy;
  • Prosthetics;
  • Rehabilitation programs;
  • Specialized medical equipment;
  • Surgeries and surgical procedures;
  • Therapy or rehabilitation sessions (e.g., for physical or occupational therapy);
  • Transportation to and from medical appointments; and 
  • Wound care supplies.

You can expect the insurance company to challenge some of these expenses, no matter how reasonable they might be.

Lost Earnings

Suffering a personal injury can cause you to miss work. It can also cause you to switch to a less challenging (and less lucrative) line of work. Financial losses that you incur due to the time you spend in the hospital after your accident might represent only the tip of the iceberg of your total lost earnings. Following is a list of some of the major components of list earnings.

Lost earnings for employees

Lost earnings for employees include:

  • Base salary during the time you missed work;
  • Bonuses and commissions;
  • Benefits such as health insurance, retirement contributions, and more;
  • Promotions or advancement, if you can prove it;
  • Sick leave and vacation time, to the extent that you had to use these resources to cover your time off;
  • Lost business opportunities, such as training courses; and
  • Occupational retraining costs, if you need retraining to take another job as a consequence of your injury.

Other categories could apply as well, depending on your circumstances.

Lost earnings for the self-employed

  • Lost profits;
  • Business opportunities;
  • Increased operating costs (the need to hire replacement employees, for example);
  • Decrease in business value (especially if the value of your business is based primarily on your personal reputation and goodwill);
  • Lost future earnings due to canceled contracts, etc.; and
  • Costs of business dissolution and re-establishment, if your injuries cause you to close your business.

Documenting economic damages is typically more difficult for the self-employed than it is for employees. 

Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Out-of-pocket expenses include:

  • Assistive devices (e.g., wheelchairs, braces, hearing aids);
  • Childcare costs (if you are unable to care for their children during recovery);
  • Co-pays and deductibles;
  • Counseling or therapy sessions;
  • Crutches or mobility aids;
  • Diagnostic tests (e.g., X-rays, MRIs, CT scans);
  • Home modifications (e.g., ramps, handrails, widened doorways for wheelchair access);
  • Household services (e.g., lawn care, cleaning, maintenance) if you cannot perform them yourself;
  • Lost personal items damaged during the incident (e.g., glasses, clothing);
  • Medical devices;
  • Medications (both prescription and over-the-counter);
  • Nursing home or rehabilitation center stays;
  • Parking fees at medical facilities;
  • Physical or occupational therapy;
  • Prosthetics;
  • Replacement of damaged property (e.g., if a car accident was the cause of your injury);
  • Special dietary needs or supplements related to injuries;
  • Transportation costs to and from medical appointments or therapy (e.g., taxi fares, fuel, public transportation); and
  • Travel expenses if specialized treatment requires visiting far-off medical centers.

Some expenses might be classified as ‘out-of-pocket medical expenses.’ Take care not to double-count.

Diminished Earning Capacity

You might call diminished earning capacity ‘future lost earnings.’ If your injuries cause you to suffer permanent disability, you might find yourself unable to return to your previous occupation or activities. At one end of the spectrum, you might be reduced to part-time employment for a few months. At the other end of the spectrum, you might have to retire early because of your injuries.

To establish diminished earning capacity, you might need:

  • A thorough medical evaluation;
  • An assessment of your work capacity by a vocational expert;
  • An analysis of your potential long-term loss of income by an economic expert; and
  • Thorough documentation of your disability.

You’ve got to get this one right the first time. If you underestimate your future lost income, you could run out of money years from now. If this happens, you won’t be able to return to the bargaining table to ask for more money later. 

Property Damage

Property damage is a different category of damages than personal injury damages. Nevertheless, courts tend to resolve personal injury and property damage claims together if it makes sense to do so – for example, in car accident cases.

Wrongful Death Claims

A wrongful death claim arises when the victim of a personal injury dies from their injury. In South Carolina, a wrongful death claim generates the following economic damages:

  •  Funeral and burial expenses;
  • Medical bills left over from the victim’s injury; and
  • Financial support and benefits lost by surviving dependents.

Wrongful death claims also generate non-economic damages.

The Clock Is Ticking, but an Experienced Rock Hill Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

Under normal circumstances, you have three years to file a personal injury lawsuit in South Carolina. Don’t wait until the deadline is looming to start pursuing your claim. You don’t necessarily need to file a lawsuit. 

Even if you do, your claim will probably not go to trial.Elrod Pope Accident & Injury Attorneys is here to help. Contact a trusted Rock Hill personal injury lawyer by calling (803) 324-7574 to help you leverage your claim in a manner that maximizes the amount of damages you receive.