What are non-economic damages in a personal injury case?

By Troy Giatras | Sep 18, 2018

CHARLESTON – If you have been injured due to another person’s careless, reckless, or deliberate act, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. 

The legal term for your losses is “damages,” and these are divided into two major categories, economic and non-economic. Most of your economic damages are easy to calculate, because they come out of your pocket or from your various types of insurance. These are your medical bills, your lost income from not being able to work, and other costs directly related to your injury. You may also be entitled to compensation for future economic losses, if you are going to need ongoing treatment or will be unable to work as you once did. But noneconomic damages are not as cut and dried, and are therefore much less predictable.

By “non-economic damages,” the law means real but intangible losses that affect you personally. In other words, because of your injury, your life is not as it was. Noneconomic damages can include:

  • Physical pain — Whether you suffered acute pain that eventually subsided or continue to suffer from chronic pain, you deserve compensation. Pain is hard to quantify and often requires circumstantial evidence, such as diminished activity, to convince a jury of the existence and degree of pain.
  • Mental suffering — This is compensation for the emotional toll the injury has taken on you. Some victims may suffer from PTSD, night terrors, or crippling anxiety.
  • Disfigurement — The loss to your physical appearance due to scarring is compensable. Visible parts of the body, especially the face, are more highly compensated than scars that clothing would generally cover. But juries also tend to sympathize with scarring that interferes with intimacy.
  • Loss of consortium — If, because of the injury, you cannot make love to your spouse, your loss is compensable.
  • Loss of quality of life — This is a generalized diminution of your day-to-day life due to pain, disability, and emotional trauma. This is an important damage category in catastrophic injuries that severely limit a victim’s autonomy and leave a victim dependent on others.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life — This category is more specific than the preceding one. So, for example, if you had a particular talent you can no longer use or an activity you can no longer participate in, your enjoyment of life is curtailed.
Non-economic damages are also called special damages, and they are often lumped together colloquially as “pain and suffering.” These damages rely on evidence contrasting the victim’s prior life with his or her present life. There is no specific formula for calculating noneconomic damages, but through years of practice, personal injury attorneys learn to gauge how much a jury might award a victim.


Giatras  

Non-economic damages can be substantial for catastrophic injuries, such as the loss of a limb or paralysis. But the court can override a damage award if a judge feels the jury made an emotional decision not bound by a reasonable consideration of the facts. West Virginia also places a cap on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases: for most injuries, the maximum amount is $250,000, but pain and suffering recovery can go as high as $500,000 for catastrophic injuries. Those statutory amounts are subject to increase at the pace of inflation as recorded in the Consumer Price Index.

Giatras is the founding member of The Giatras Law Firm in Charleston.

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