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Determining damages in a premises liability case

A person can sue a property owner under premises liability law when he or she is injured on the property due to the property owner's negligence in maintaining a reasonably safe environment. Many people who are injured on someone else's property initiate premises liability lawsuits because they need compensation for their injuries or losses. A plaintiff is only awarded compensation or damages if he or she is able to successfully prove that the property owner was legally liable for the injuries suffered. Once liability is proven, the determination of damages is a separate analysis.

The first and most common type of damages awarded in a premises liability case is compensatory damages. Another term used to refer to compensatory damages is "actual damages." The point or purpose of awarding compensatory damages is to restore the plaintiff to his or her position before the injury occurred. Both economic losses and non-economic losses are considered when evaluating the proper amount of compensatory damages, but precisely proving the amount of damages is not required. Instead, the plaintiff must only provide an estimate of the losses suffered that is both intelligent and probable. In general, compensatory damages are comprised of three basic categories: medical and other expenses, loss of earning capacity and loss of income, and physical and mental pain and suffering.

Punitive damages are another type of damages that can be awarded in premises liability cases, but this type of compensation is not awarded in all cases. In fact, it is rare for juries to award punitive damages against a property owner. Punitive damages constitute additional compensation in addition to the prior awarded compensatory damages. The purpose of awarding punitive damages is to punish the defendant, so plaintiffs must prove that the defendant's conduct was especially egregious-i.e., willful and wanton negligence.

Another factor that is considered in the determination of damages is the plaintiff's own duty to mitigate damages. The plaintiff cannot expect to hold a defendant liable for costs incurred if the plaintiff did not reasonably attempt to mitigate damages. For example, if a plaintiff fails to seek adequate and prompt medical care, he or she cannot seek excessive damages as a result of a worsened injury.

Source: USLaw Network, Inc., "State of Virginia Retail Compendium of Law," 2014

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