Imagine if someone intentionally burned down your house. You would be entitled to recover damages from the person who did it, of course, but how do you calculate the value of your losses? In a lawsuit, can you get damages for your personal pain and suffering?
It’s easy to determine the economic damages—the value of the house, the appliances inside, etc.—but that doesn’t cover the full extent of the harm you’ve suffered. In California, you could also likely recover monetary compensation for non-economic damages, like pain and suffering.
What Are Non-Economic Damages?
Most damages in civil lawsuits are compensatory, meaning they are meant to compensate the plaintiff with money for the losses they’ve suffered (often phrased as “making the plaintiff whole again”) rather than punish the defendant for their bad behavior. Non-economic damages are no exception. They are “subjective, non-monetary losses” for which a jury or judge must determine a monetary value. Non-economic damages include:
- Mental suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of society and companionship
- Loss of consortium (being kept from the benefits of a family relationship)
- Injury to reputation
Using the burned house example above, you could make an excellent argument for non-economic damages for pain and suffering in a lawsuit. Even if you were not physically injured, losing your home and everything inside (including family photos, cherished keepsakes, etc.) likely caused you severe emotional distress, as well as considerable inconvenience.
As with other damages, a plaintiff must present evidence to demonstrate non-economic losses. Relevant evidence will vary depending on the situation, but it is anything that establishes the existence of the injuries and helps the judge or jury attach a specific monetary value. The evidence could include testimony from medical and mental health experts, family and friends, and you.
Limits on Non-Economic Damages
In California, there are some situations where non-economic damages are limited to a certain amount or prohibited altogether. For example, in medical malpractice cases, they are capped at $250,000, an amount that has remained the same since it was passed into law in 1975. In addition, in traffic accident cases, a plaintiff cannot recover non-economic damages at all if they were uninsured or driving under the influence at the time.
Another important limit is that multiple defendants are not jointly liable for non-economic damages. It means each defendant is only responsible for paying their portion depending on how much they were at fault. For example, if there are two defendants, one who is a millionaire and another who is penniless, and the millionaire is only 1% at fault, they only have to pay 1% of the non-economic damages. There are important exceptions to this rule, such as an employee-employer relationship between the defendants.
Personal Injury Experts in Southern California
Non-economic damages can form a large part of a plaintiff’s claim, but they are very complicated to litigate. Our experienced team of personal injury attorneys can help you prove your case and maximize your recovery. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.