Here’s a sample of the sort of questions I get from folks in my practice as an personal injury trial attorney in Atlanta:
Q: What does general damages mean in context to auto accident personal injury claim in Georgia?
A: This is more than you asked for, but here is a portion of the Georgia Pattern Jury Instructions on damages in personal injury cases:
Damages are given as compensation for an injury done, and generally the injury is the measure when the damages are of a character to be estimated in money. If the injury is small or mitigating circumstances are strong, only nominal damages are given. What would be a proper amount of nominal damages is a question for you to decide under all the facts and circumstances of the case.
In all cases, necessary expenses resulting from the injury are a legitimate item of damages. As to medical expenses, such as hospital, doctor, and medicine bills, the amount of the damage would be the reasonable value of such expense as was reasonably necessary.
Loss of earnings from the time of the alleged injury to the time of trial is a legal item of damages, and (the amount that may be recovered) (its measure) is the value of the earnings that the evidence shows with reasonable certainty the plaintiff has lost as a result of the injury. You may consider what the plaintiff was making at the time of the injury, what was made since the injury, the amount customarily paid in the locality for the kind of work the plaintiff does, and similar matters. There must be some evidence before you as to the plaintiff’s loss.
Pain and suffering is a legal item of damages. The measure is the enlightened conscience of fair and impartial jurors. Questions of whether, how much, and how long the plaintiff has suffered or will suffer are for you to decide.
Pain and suffering includes mental suffering, but mental suffering is not a legal item of damage unless there is physical suffering also. If you find that the plaintiff’s pain and suffering will continue into the future, you should award damages for such future pain and suffering as you believe the plaintiff will endure. In making such award, your standard should be your enlightened conscience as impartial jurors. You would be entitled to take into consideration the fact that the plaintiff is receiving a present cash award for damages not yet suffered.
No plaintiff may recover for injuries or disabilities that are not connected with the act or omissions of the defendant in this case. There can be no recovery for a particular plaintiff for any injury or disability that was not proximately caused by the incident in question.
If you should find that, at the time of the incident, the plaintiff had any physical condition, ailment, or disease that was becoming apparent or was dormant, and if you should find that the plaintiff received an injury as a result of the negligence of the defendant and that the injury resulted in any aggravation of a condition already pending, then the plaintiff could recover damages for aggravation of the preexisting condition.
In a tort action in which the entire injury pertains to the peace, happiness, or feelings of the plaintiff, no measure of damages may be prescribed, except the enlightened conscience of impartial jurors. The worldly circumstances of the parties, the amount of bad faith in the transaction, and all the attendant facts should be weighed.
In determining the amount of such damage, you would consider all the facts and circumstances of the case, as disclosed by the evidence, and fix a sum as you think would be reasonable, fair, and just.
Ken Shigley is a trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia who has been listed as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), among the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers (Martindale), and is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy,. Mr. Shigley has extensive experience representing parties in trucking and bus accidents, products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, brain injury, spinal cord injury and burn injury cases. Currently he is Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia, of which he will become Treasurer in June.