Personal Injury Non-economic Damages

In most personal injury cases a significant factor of case value is non-economic damages, also referred to as general damages. Juries are instructed to provide compensation for non-economic damages if they are demonstrated at trial.

In most states general damages include disability, pain and suffering,  loss of enjoyment of life and disfigurement.  A knowledgeable lawyer breaks down these elements separately and assigns a value to each. This makes sense as each element if present requires separate compensation.

Disability. Disability is present when the injured person lacks the ability possessed before the injury to perform work or tasks of living.  In a disability situation this is usually because of range of motion limitations or strength deficits resulting from the injury. Disability may be physical, but it can also be mental (such as in a brain injury case).

Pain and Suffering. Pain and suffering compensates for physical (pain component) and mental (suffering component) problems resulting from the injury. We all know what pain is having learned this as babies.  Suffering is the emotional component of mentally dealing with the injury.

Loss of Enjoyment of Life. To understand why loss of enjoyment of life is a separate element of general damages consider disability compensates for the inability to lead a normal life.  Pain and suffering compensates for the physical and mental discomfort of the injury.  Neither compensate for the loss of specific artistic, athletic, or unique skills possessed and lost, or loss of the ability to perform at the same level, because of the injury. Thus, when plaintiff has lost the ability to actualize special talent possessed before injury the jury is instructed to provide compensation.

Disfigurement. This is apparent to the jury. Disfigurement includes a scar,  a missing external body part and/or physical changes resulting from the injury.

Past, Present and Future. The jury is instructed to provide compensation for any element of general damages from injury to trial, for what exists at trial, and for what will exist into the future.  Significant perssonal injury cases usually involve an element of general damage that is permanent. Here the life expectancy of the injured person is considered. Usually the younger the plaintiff the more value to the injury. This is because of a longer life expectancy for enduring the element of the general damage.

Money as Compensation. The only way the law provides for compensation for personal injury damages is by way of a jury verdict in the amount of money the jury collectively believes is fair and reasonable given the injury. At times we read about a significant jury verdict.  In the abstract without knowing the facts this may seem like too much.  In reality the verdict amount is rarely too much. The injured plaintiff will always trade the amount of the verdict for their condition before the injury. Nonetheless,  a money verdict gives dignity to the injured plaintiff and represents a statement from the community that a negligent person is  financially responsible for their negligence. This makes us a civilized society.

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