I recently read an article on findlaw.com entitled “How Do Damage Caps Work?” which discusses the various legislative attempts across the nation to place a cap on damages in certain noneconomic losses that result from a personal injury.
First, let me point out the difference between economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages can be measured in dollars and cents. For instance, if a person is injured through the fault of another and incurs $20,000 in medical expenses, that $20,000 is a portion of the victim’s economic damages. If a person’s injury requires treatment in the future, then a calculation can be made for future medical expenses likely to be incurred. Such future medical expenses would also be part of the economic loss. If the person’s injury is such that the person has lost work and may experience a future loss of earning capacity, the time lost from work as well as the loss of future earning capacity are also economic damages.
At trial, a plaintiff may present a sum for medical expenses (already incurred and to be incurred) and a sum for lost income and loss of future earning capacity. When a lawyer asks the jury to award the client an amount for these types of losses, they are the economic losses.
Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, are unique and personal to each individual. While noneconomic damages are often lumped under the heading “pain and suffering”, it includes consideration of many more items. For instance, in a jury’s deliberation of the extent of an injury, the following items are considered: pain, discomfort, suffering, and disability and disfigurement. There are additional items that are difficult to value such as: loss of love, care, and affection as well as a general loss of enjoyment of life. Loss of enjoyment of life is the loss of one’s ability to participate in life’s activities with the quality and extent normally enjoyed before the injury. With a heading like pain and suffering, it is easy to see why most of us look cautiously and suspiciously at plaintiffs seeking significant noneconomic damages.
Remember what I said though, noneconomic damages are personal. Two people can have the same injury and the impact of that injury may be quite different for each person. An active outdoors individual will suffer a greater impact from a broken leg and someone who enjoys reading, for instance, as past time. A lawyer with a broken leg can probably go to work every day but a construction worker may not be so fortunate.
Many lawyers, including me, argue that because there is a difference from one person to the next caps on noneconomic damages are unfair and irrational. Nonetheless, legislatures across the country have capped noneconomic damages, usually in the amount of $250,000-$350,000. Such caps allow plaintiffs with modest to moderately severe injuries to recover the full amount of their noneconomic damages award. A person with catastrophic injuries, on the other hand, may not be permitted to keep what a jury deems to be a full measure of the noneconomic damages and is stuck, instead, with the artificial caps.
In Arizona we are fortunate to have a provision in our state Constitution that prohibits our legislators from taking away a right to recover a full measure of noneconomic damages. Still, Arizona’s legislators continue trying to regulate a plaintiff’s right to recover full damages, though every legislative effort meets with strong resistance from trial lawyers and others across the state.
At Clarke Law Offices, we look forward to an opportunity to fight for you or a loved one and recover for you the full measure of your damages, economic as well as noneconomic If you have been in any type of accident and have been injured, call us for a free consultation..