There are two broad components to any personal injury lawsuit. The first component is establishing the defendant was negligent and violated some legal duty owed to the plaintiff. The second component is actually proving the damages sustained by the plaintiff as a result of this negligence.
When it comes to damages, a plaintiff needs to be as specific as possible, especially with respect to damages that can be calculated to some degree of certainty. You cannot simply show up in court and ask a judge or jury to “use common sense” in figuring out what the defendant owes you. To put it another way, you cannot ask the court to engage in speculation to decide your damages.
Perez v. Bowman
A recent decision from a federal judge in Macon helps to illustrate this point. This particular case, Perez v. Bowman, arose from a March 2016 accident involving two tractor-trailers. Both vehicles were in the parking lot of a Butts County truck stop. The plaintiff, who was driving one of the trucks, sued the driver and owner of the other truck, alleging they were negligent in causing the accident.
The defense conceded negligence. But they denied causing any injuries to the plaintiff. The plaintiff, who was self-employed, claimed that he suffered “lost wages” as a result of accident-related injuries. During pre-trial discovery, the plaintiff said he “lost about two months of income” following the accident, but that he was “unsure” of the precise amount of his losses. He estimated it was about “400 a day.”
The defendants moved for summary judgment. In effect, they argued the plaintiff had not presented any actual evidence that would allow a jury to find he suffered any lost wages. The judge agreed and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim on this issue.
The judge explained that under Georgia law, a plaintiff needed to provide “evidence which furnishes the jury with sufficient data to enable them to calculate the amount [of damages] with reasonable certainty.” The plaintiff could not leave the calculation of damages to “speculation, conjecture and guesswork”–or as the plaintiff suggested, to the jury’s “experience and common sense.”
Here, the only evidence presented by the plaintiff came from his bank and credit card statements. But the plaintiff never tied these statements directly “to his lost wages claim.” More to the point, he only “made vague and ambiguous statements about the length of time he was unable to return to work because of the accident.” The judge noted the defense made “multiple” requests for additional information in support of the lost wages claim. Ultimately, what the plaintiff needed to provide was some concrete means for a jury to actually calculate the plaintiff’s lost wages. Since he failed to do so, the judge was compelled to dismiss this part of the plaintiff’s lawsuit.