Damages in a Personal Injury Case

What are personal injury damages?

“Damages” are the harms and losses that a person suffers because of someone else’s negligence. The only relief for an injury in the courts, generally, is money damages. The legal system breaks damages into two broad categories: economic damages and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages

Economic damages are simple. These are the medical bills, the lost wages, and incidental costs associated with an injury. If an injury is permanent, then we might hire a medical professional to estimate future costs. We might also hire an economist to determine the cost of that plan and any lost wages. Economic damages are fixed costs, generally, and they’re determined by (mostly) simple math.

Noneconomic damages

So-called “noneconomic damages” are not as simple. These are the human losses in a case. This is where the pain you have when you sit for too long becomes a factor. It’s where the scar that reminds you of the botched surgery comes into play. These things affect your quality of life. A car crash is a traumatic event. Surgery is terrifying.

Sometimes what might seem—at least at first glance—like a small thing has a huge impact. Maybe you’re a guitar player and breaking your fingers means that you can’t play the guitar as well or frequently (or at all) anymore. Or maybe your pain makes you irritable and you snap at your loved ones for no reason. Maybe you relive the car crash every time you come to a complete stop at a stop sign.

Fear for the Future

Injuries cause fear about the future. How will you pay your medical bills? What about your household expenses when you can’t work? How will you comfort your child when you can’t hold them because of the pain? How will you manage that pain for the rest of your life? Being injured because someone was careless is particularly frustrating because negligence is preventable. It means angst, insecurity, and fear thrust into your life through no fault of your own. And the “what if?” scenarios we play on repeat in our heads increase fear. Ultimately, sometimes, we blame ourselves for things over which we have no control.   

Jury Instructions 

Vermont’s standard jury instructions on damages provide that an injured person is entitled to compensation for “bodily injury and any pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life experienced in the past, or probably to be experienced by [you] in the future.” The instructions further note: “There is no particular formula to calculate this compensation.” Finally, the instructions provide that the amount should be “fair” in light of the evidence presented at trial. Our job as your lawyers is to truly understand what you’ve been through on a core level. Only then will we be able to show insurance adjusters, the defense attorneys, and ultimately a judge and twelve community members what it’s like to walk a mile in your shoes and what’s fair to you in terms of money damages.   

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