Non-Economic Damages Vs. Economic Damages
General Damages are generally referred to as “Non-Economic Damages.” Think of these as damages you generally have no set price tag, such as pain, suffering, and emotional distress. For example, while it is easy to determine what your medical expenses are (your medical bills), there is no invoice or set standard for the monetary amount that will compensate someone for being in a lot of pain, being unable to walk, or losing a loved one.
Getting compensation for non-economic damages is quite difficult for people to comprehend because people generally don’t think of what a life free of pain actually worth monetarily.
Serious injuries following a car accident, dog bit, or slip and fall involve these intangible items like pain and suffering. This includes disfigurement, disability, susceptibility to future injuries, and impaired enjoyment of life. An injured person is entitled to compensation for the impairment in their ability to “enjoy life” as they could have before the injury.
Examples of impairment to enjoyment to life generally includes things like:
(1) Impairment in ability to do routine activities like dressing yourself, bathing yourself, feeding yourself, driving yourself, walking, etc.
(2) Impairment in ability to do or enjoy recreational or social activities, like dancing, bowling, hiking, jogging, and other physical recreational activities.
(3) Impairment in ability to do normal family or household services, like gardening, cleaning, cooking, repairs, etc.
(4) Impairment in ability to do or enjoy hobbies, like playing an instrument, writing, painting, etc.
(5) Impairment in ability to provide care or otherwise interact with family, which includes playing with your kids, traveling with your family, of impairment on sexual capacity.
But, how do we put a dollar amount on these activities? A unique way to think of non-economic harm is by asking yourself, “what are my non-economic assets?”
For example, imagine a person who has a favorite hobby or pastime. For me, it’s Golf. It is one of my favorite things to do and brings me tremendous joy. Golf is a huge “non-economic asset” for me. If you offered me $50,000.00 to never play Golf again, I might not accept it because of the joy I would be prevented from having.
There are countless other “non-economic assets” that require some serious thought. This ranges from, picking up or playing with your child, getting a good night sleep, being able to exercise, etc. The list is almost endless and very different and unique for each person. If I sustained an injury that prevented me from playing golf, holding my kids, getting sleep, and being able to exercise, the value of my non-economic damages would be huge.
To the extent a person’s ability to enjoy their life (or their non-economic assets) is impaired and the time of that impairment, the value of the non-economic loss continues to increase. For example, if a person could continue playing with their child after an accident, but they could only do so with some slight pain, the impairment on that non-economic asset is not as severe as someone who’s injury completely prevents them from playing with their child. Similarly, to the extent a person’s injury prevents them from playing with their child for three months versus three years, the non-economic harm is significantly different.
Ultimately, the jury has discretion in deciding the amount of your general (non-economic) damages. Therefore, it is important for any person following an accident to think about their non-economic assets and how their injuries have impaired or impacted their ability to enjoy their lives.