What Are Non-Economic Damages?

What Are Non-Economic Damages?

If you’re ever injured in a car or truck accident, you may consider filing a personal injury lawsuit. The basic concept of a personal injury lawsuit is that you’ve suffered harm in different ways, and someone else is legally responsible for that harm.

With a personal injury case, a private individual who is known as the plaintiff files a civil complaint against someone else.

The complaint can be against another individual, a corporate, a government entity, or a business. Most personal injury cases are dealt with through an informal settlement, first requiring negotiation and followed by the submission of a written agreement.

As part of a personal injury lawsuit, you may hear discussions about economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are pretty clear cut and may include things like medical bills and lost wages.

Non-economic damages can be a bit more of a gray area.

Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages

Economic damages are what you may be entitled to recover because of an accident. This can include not only medical bills and loss of earning capacity but also property damage, household services, and out-of-pocket costs.

Non-economic damages might include:

  • Pain
  • Emotional distress
  • Embarrassment or humiliation
  • Damage to reputation
  • Loss of activities you enjoy
  • Worsening of previous injuries

Depending on the state, non-economic damages might be referred to as pain and suffering.

A spouse may also be entitled to recover non-economic damage, which is known as loss of consortium.

We most often associate non-economic damages and pain and suffering with personal injuries stemming from auto accidents, but there are other cases where the term is relevant.

For example, if a doctor doesn’t make the right differential diagnosis, and for example, misses something that then lead to a heart attack, family members may sue for wrongful death not only because of the loss of income resulting from the death of that person, but also the challenges that let’s say that person’s children would face growing up without a parent.

How Are Non-Economic Damages Awarded?

The gray area of non-economic damages extends to not just how they’re defined but how they’re awarded.

If a personal injury case goes to trial, juries may come to different conclusions about what the appropriate amount to award in non-economic damages would be.

It’s tricky because there aren’t bills or receipts you can use to come to a figure and to assign a dollar value.

Non-economic damages are very subjective, and as a result, many states have initiated tort reform laws to deal with this issue.

Critics of non-economic damage awards feel that the awards are excessive and are based on emotion instead of proof and facts.

For most states, there still isn’t a cap on personal injury non-economic damages, but for medical malpractice cases, there is usually a cap.

Limits on Non-Economic Damages

As was touched on, the limitations on non-economic damages depend on where you live.

Some states will only award non-economic damages if the plaintiff is able to first prove economic damages.

In other cases, non-economic damages are determined by a specific formula, that’s proportionally based on economic damages.

The federal law stipulates non-economic damages must be reasonable, so this means they’re often limited to no more than ten times the amount of the economic damages a plaintiff is awarded.

Since economic damage can impact non-economic damages, it’s a good idea to have an understanding of how these are calculated.

Medical expenses usually make up the majority of damages that are awarded. Medical expenses include therapy costs for both physical and mental issues, hospital bills, the cost of medication, and ambulance bills.

Economic damages can be calculated in a fairly concrete way by adding the documented amounts that are available in evidence such as medical bills.

Other costs may be included, too, such as the cost of damage to your vehicle, but you’ll need evidence.

Some personal injury cases require an expert witnesses’ testimony to help in the determination of economic damages.

There are some jurisdictions where economic damages aren’t available in personal injury cases. There are terms including contributory negligence and comparative negligence that can potentially reduce the economic damages a plaintiff is entitled to recover.

For example, if you’re in an accident and you’re injured, but you were speeding at the time, then you’re likely going to see this impact the economic damages you can recover.

It can all be a bit confusing, which is why it’s usually best to speak with a personal injury attorney before doing anything else.


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