What Are Non-Economic Damages?
This resource will provide an easy-to-read, plain language explanation of non-economic legal damages. If you have any further questions after reading this resource, do not hesitate to reach out to our law office online or by phone.
What Are Legal Damages?
It can help to have an understanding of legal damages, in general. Damages are a sum of money received by an injury victim who files a lawsuit.
When injury victims talk about what a personal injury case is worth, they are usually talking about the total value of their damages.
Damages are intended to put the injury victim back into the same position as they were before the accident — or as close to the same position as possible since some things may never be the same again.
The injury victim asks the court for damages if the court finds the other party to be at fault for the accident that caused their injury. Usually, a personal injury lawsuit is asserted based on a theory of negligence.
If the injured party prevails, the court will award damages.
Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages
To understand non-economic damages, it can help to understand their counterpart: economic damages. In Pennsylvania, automobile drivers must choose between two types of insurance coverage:
- “limited tort”
- “full tort”
The type of coverage that applies to your accident may determine whether you can recover non-economic damages.
Economic damages are intended to restore a plaintiff’s financial situation. They make up for the plaintiff’s actual dollars, or the plaintiff would have earned that if the accident and injury had not occurred. Medical bills and lost wages are examples of economic damages.
Non-economic damages are intended to restore an injured person for losses that are non-monetary in nature. This is an imperfect solution, to be sure. However, it is still the fairest way to compensate injury victims for things they will never get back.
Many injury victims want to know if they can sue for pain and suffering following an accident. For drivers with full tort coverage, non-economic damages are available even without severe or permanent injuries.
On the other hand, if limited tort coverage applies, you may be able to recover damages for pain and suffering if any of the following are involved:
- Serious impairment of a bodily function
- Permanent serious disfigurement
For example, in some motorcycle accident cases, road rash can lead to permanent and serious disfigurement.
Here are some other losses for which non-economic damages might be available. The following categories are examples only. You should speak with a reputable personal injury attorney about non-economic damages in your case.
While most accidents are upsetting, certain accidents can be emotionally and psychologically traumatic.
- Pedestrian accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Botched tattoos
The injury victim will often witness the accident as it happens in these kinds of cases.
Another example of a relevant traumatic injury is being thrown a distance due to the force of impact from the weight of a semi-truck or other heavy automobile.
These experiences can cause shock and humiliation in addition to physical pain. A person may be able to recover non-economic damages for mental anguish under these circumstances.
Loss of Enjoyment of Life
When an injury victim can no longer participate in life activities that once brought them great joy, they may have a claim for non-economic damages for loss of enjoyment of life. This does not mean that a person’s quality of life must be non-existent.
For example, if a person was involved in sports, dancing, or yoga, they may experience loss of enjoyment of life if they can no longer participate in these activities as a result of an injury.
Loss of Consortium
In a wrongful death case, a decedent’s family members may have a claim for the loss of support and guidance their loved one would have given had they lived. This kind of claim is called a loss of consortium claim.
One common loss of consortium claim relates to spouses who are no longer able to engage in intimacy.
Punitive damages apply only in certain circumstances. Usually, punitive damages will not be available. However, when the at-fault party acts with malice, punitive damages may be triggered.
How Are Non-Economic Damages Calculated?
By their very definition, non-economic damages are not easily counted by dollar values. So does the law tell us to calculate these damages?
The value of non-economic damages can drastically differ from case to case. Since each case is valued based on its own circumstances, you should speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to learn more about the value of your claim.
Some considerations in calculating non-economic damages include whether the injury prevents life activities like:
- Playing with children or grandchildren
- Doing housework or yard work
- Playing sports, dancing, or engaging in physical activity for leisure or health
Other factors include whether the at-fault party acted with malicious intent and whether the incident was embarrassing or humiliating.
In general, injuries that change the course of someone’s life drastically are more likely to lead to higher settlements or compensation awards. In any personal injury matter, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney in your state.