Any victim of a personal injury accident like a slip and fall accident, construction site incident, or act of medical malpractice can tell you that sometimes the costliest injuries are the ones you cannot see. You may have medical bills and expenses related to the treatment of your injuries, and you will certainly encounter lost wages if you cannot return to work (either temporarily or permanently) after your injury accident. You may also experience financial hardship because of the costs of your prescription drugs, medical devices, and home health care services. On top of these losses, however, are the “unseen” injuries – depression, loss of enjoyment of life, deterioration in your quality of life, and other similar losses and harm. It’s easy to know how much compensation to expect for a personal injury-related medical bill: it’s quite another to know how to value these unseen injuries.
Recovering Economic and Noneconomic Damages in a Personal Injury
There are two types of “damages” (that is, a monetary judgment) that can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit. The first type of damages is called economic damages. Simply put, economic damages include those losses and expenses that are primarily financial in nature and/or those that can be quantified easily because there is a receipt, bill, invoice, or other similar objective evidence of the value of the loss. The other type of damages is called noneconomic damages. Unlike economic damages, noneconomic damages are not easily quantifiable because no invoice or other objective evidence is stating the dollar value of the loss. Instead, placing a value on noneconomic losses is more subjective and personal.
Pain and suffering caused by a personal injury accident – which would include the mental anguish that comes from being in temporary or constant pain, depression over your situation and condition, and impairment in your ability to live the life you were accustomed to before your injury accident – is one of the most common types of noneconomic damages. Like economic damages, you are entitled to recover compensation for any and all noneconomic damages that were caused by the personal injury accident.
Assigning Monetary Value to Pain and Suffering Damages
While you may be entitled to recover compensation for your noneconomic losses, any such recovery presupposes that you can assign a value to your pain and suffering that the judge or jury finds fair and appropriate. This is not always an easy task, and it will vary from case to case and circumstance to circumstance. You and your personal injury attorney should collaborate on determining a proper value for your injuries. In making this valuation, some of the factors considered will be:
- Whether your pain and suffering is temporary or permanent. This does not always coincide with your physical injuries. For example, a slip and fall may leave you with a broken bone and a fear of stepping onto steps or escalators again. While the fractured bone may heal, your newly-developed fear may linger with you long after the cast is removed from you. The longer and/or more permanent your pain and suffering is, the higher the value that will be assigned to your pain and suffering.
- The quality of life you have vs. the quality of life you did have. It can be crushing to know that (through no fault of your own) another’s careless acts can rob you of your ability to enjoy the activities you once took pleasure in. If you used to run marathons or ride a bicycle competitively but now cannot, your pain and suffering should be valued higher than someone who is older and/or leads a more sedentary lifestyle and whose life post-injury accident is less-drastically different from his or her life pre-injury.
- Your age and general health. Everyone will experience the pain and suffering of a personal injury accident differently. Individuals who were generally healthy and pain-free prior to their personal injury accident may find their pain and suffering to be excruciating, while those who have numerous physical ailments and were already in pain may find that their pain has intensified. Both of these hypothetical individuals are entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering (assuming, of course, such pain and suffering is the result of a personal injury accident), but the first individual may experience his or her pain and suffering more severely than the other person. If this were the case, then the first individual’s pain and suffering award may be greater to account for this difference.
- The fault of the victim in bringing about the pain and suffering. In many states, any fault on the part of the injury victim in causing the pain and suffering is also considered and may be used to lower a pain and suffering damages award. For example, a person who is hurt while on a construction site but who does not go to the hospital or doctor’s office until an infection has set in may be awarded a smaller pain and suffering damages award than a person who, after being injured, decided to go immediately to the hospital for evaluation and treatment.
A Word About “Caps”
You should be aware that some states limit the amount of damages for pain and suffering that an individual can recover in certain cases by imposing a “cap” or maximum amount on such damages.
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