What Type Of Damages Are Available In A Wisconsin Personal Injury Claim?

By Nicholas Strom

People who have never been involved in an accident case often do not understand what they are able to recover in a lawsuit. I am often asked if it is worth it to pursue a case. The purpose of this post is to explain what an injured person may be entitled to in a personal injury lawsuit to help injured people evaluate whether to pursue a lawsuit.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are money awarded to an injured person that compensate them for their injury. The damages must be attributable to a defendant and the injured person must be able to quantify the amount of loss to the jury. Compensatory damages break down into “economic damages” and “non-economic damages.”

Put simply, economic damages are things that can specifically be calculated such as medical bills, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity and damage to your property (for instance, your vehicle).

Loss of wages and loss of future earnings are more difficult to calculate than medical bills, but it is not impossible. You will need evidence of your lost wages. If you are paid hourly, you may be able to document your lost wages by providing your hourly rate and getting proof from a supervisor on the shifts you missed. For self-employed or salaried employees, you may need additional evidence proving your compensation was reduced because of time off work. You will likely need an expert to explain how your injuries prevent you from making money in the future.

Non-economic damages are damages that are not as easy to calculate. These are damages for things like pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life. It is difficult to put a value on these non-economic damages given that no two individuals are alike. The same accident can affect different people in different ways. For instance, an older person with an existing medical condition may suffer more than someone in perfect health in their mid-twenties. You can work with your attorney to determine how to best provide evidence for lost wages and loss of future earning capacity.

Given the inherent difficulties in calculating pain and suffering, non-economic damages are usually calculated by using a multiplier of medical bills. This multiplier is usually between 1 and 5 depending on the severity of the accident. As a simple example, if an injured person has $20,000 in medical bills and the multiplier of 2 is used, the individual will request $40,000 in pain and suffering compensation for a total of $60,000 ($20,000 in medical bills plus $40,000 in pain and suffering). Of course, there is still a question of what should be chosen as a multiplier and working with your attorney and legal team will help you determine how much pain and suffering damages you should request.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are damages awarded to an injured party meant to punish the person who caused the accident. They are exceedingly rare in personal injury cases. To claim punitive damages an injured party needs to provide evidence that the defendant acted maliciously towards the injured person or with an intentional disregard of the injured person’s rights. The defendant must have acted outrageous and the legal system is punishing the defendant. In Wisconsin, if you are able to prove punitive damages, you can receive up to double the amount of compensatory damages.

Again, punitive damages are very rare. You may be able to recover them if the defendant was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but it is difficult to imagine many other scenarios wherein an injured party will be able to recover punitive damages.

Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence is when the injured party fails to act prudently and contributes to her or his injuries. Contributory negligence can reduce the amount of a personal injury award. Put simply, if you were partially responsible for the accident you may not be able to recover the full amount of your damages.

In Wisconsin, if you are found to be 51 percent at fault for your injuries, you will not be able to recover anything from the defendant. However, if you are found liable for less than that, you can still recover a percentage of your damages from the defendant.


There are multiple areas of recovery for someone injured in Wisconsin. You can recover economic damages, for instance medical bills, lost wages and loss of future earning capacity. You can also recover non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress and loss of enjoyment of life. Punitive damages (damages meant to punish the defendant) are available but are uncommon and unlikely in an accident case. If you are partially at fault for your own injuries, you will receive a reduced monetary award, and may even be completely barred from recovering damages.

Fowler St. Clair handles personal injury cases and is here to help. If you have any questions about the legal process or think you may have a case, you can always reach out and one of our trusted team members can discuss your potential personal injury case free of charge.