Personal injury is the legal term for injury to the body, mind, or emotions, as opposed to damage or injury to property. A personal injury award may involve economic or non-economic damages in the calculation of the total amount of damages.
Economic damages are defined as measurable, objectively verifiable and real losses, while non-economic damages are defined as subjective, unquantifiable non-monetary losses. Economic damages may be awarded to those who were injured by substandard healthcare, severely disabled as a result of a healthcare injury, or even injured in a motor vehicle accident.
Non-economic damages may also be awarded to those who experienced loss(es) due to substandard healthcare or a motor vehicle accident, but these are capped and watched carefully to ensure they do not become excessive.
What are Economic Damages?
Economic damages, or “specific” damages, are designed to compensate the plaintiff for their actual, measurable losses. Economic damages can be reimbursement for out of pocket expenses as a result of an injury. Examples of economic damages include:
- Lost earnings;
- Compensation for medical expenses, past or future;
- Lost business opportunities as a result of the injuries suffered;
- Costs associated with repairing or replacing damaged property, such as a vehicle; or
- Damage as a result of the defendant using the plaintiff’s property, without first obtaining the plaintiff’s permission.
In most personal injury cases, medical expenses make up the bulk of the damages awarded and include: hospital bills, therapy costs for emotional/mental issues brought on by the injury, cost of medication, ambulance bills, etc.
Economic damages are calculated by adding together the amounts documented on pharmacy receipts, hospital invoices, and other various medical bills. Other costs may also be considered, such as invoices for damage to your motor vehicle, but all evidence should be measurable.
Additionally, many cases require the testimony of an expert witness who will be able to determine damage amounts. Expert witnesses are especially necessary in cases of wrongful death or malpractices, because they are needed to prove liability or fault, as well as economic damages. For example, in a medical malpractice lawsuit, an expert witness in that medical field will almost always be needed in order to demonstrate that the physician did not follow the standard of care. Further, a medical expert witness will be able to take the complex medical facts of the case to determine whether the physician should be held liable for your injury.
Economic damages are NOT always available in personal injury suits. Some jurisdictions state that contributory negligence or comparative negligence may limit, or entirely reduce, the amount of economic damages a plaintiff may receive. Thus, in many states, if a plaintiff is suing due to a car accident, but was found to be speeding prior to the accident, they can expect to have their awarded economic damages affected.
What are Non-Economic Damages?
Non-economic damages, or “general” damages, are not measurable. This means that they cannot be calculated by adding up documented bills and receipts. These general damages compensate for non-monetary, not readily quantifiable losses. Examples of non-economic damages include:
- The injury itself;
- Emotional distress;
- Disability or disfigurement;
- Pain and suffering;
- Physical impairment;
- Loss of companionship;
- Loss related to the plaintiff’s reputation; or
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
These damages are highly subjective and vary from case to case. Additionally, since they are by nature difficult to calculate, they are subjected to strict guidelines that are determined by each individual jurisdiction.
Some states will only allow for non-economic damages based on proof of economic damages. These damages are calculated according to a specific formula in proportion to the economic damages; additionally, they are generally subject to a statutory cap.
Certain federal limits are placed on non-economic damages. Under federal law, these damages must be reasonable. They cannot be incredibly high when compared to the awarded economic damages. Thus, you cannot be awarded more for emotional distress than lost earnings.
For example, if you are involved in a motor vehicle collision, and your economic damages are calculated at $10,000, you will likely not receive anything more than $100,000 in non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are typically limited to no more than ten times the amount of awarded economic damages.
Purely imaginary damages created by the plaintiff, or those invented by the plaintiff, will not be rewarded with non-economic damages. Additionally, there is a greater chance of having damages issued if there is a physical manifestation as a result of the injury. Some examples include a stomach ulcer developing from the stress of dealing with the incident, physical disfigurement, or PTSD.
Should I Contact an Attorney Regarding Economic and Non-Economic Damages?
If you have been personally injured, you should absolutely contact an attorney to assist you with your recovery and calculating your total amount of damages. Damages, whether economic or not, are generally awarded solely because of a personal injury lawsuit. Generally, an insurance company will calculate your damages and try and award you what they believe is correct.
However, an insurance companies valuation of the damages in your case, are usually not correct. A qualified and knowledgeable personal injury attorney will inform you of your rights and legal options, help you understand the law and what you might be entitled to, and will represent you in court if necessary.
Non-economic damages are especially complex and will be subjected to an even greater amount of analysis and scrutiny during a trial. A personal injury attorney will ensure that this is all done as fairly as possible.