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. The legal system breaks damages into two broad categories: economic damages and noneconomic damages.
Economic damages are simple. These include medical bills, lost wages, and incidental costs associated with an injury. If the injury is permanent, your attorney may hire a medical professional to estimate future costs or an economist to determine future lost wages. Economic damages are known as “fixed” costs, meaning it describes a cost that does not change and is determined by (mostly) simple math.
So-called “noneconomic damages” are not as simple. These are the losses that affect your quality of life. For example, the pain you have when you sit for too long, or the scar that reminds you of your botched surgery.
Sometimes what may seem like a minor issue has a huge impact on a person’s life. Maybe you’re a guitar player and breaking your fingers means that you can’t play the guitar as well — or at all — anymore. Or maybe your pain makes you irritable and you snap at your loved ones for no reason, harming your relationships. 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? Living with an injury you suffered due to someone else’s negligence is particularly frustrating because the incident was preventable.
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 … in the future.” The instructions further note: “There is no particular formula to calculate this compensation.” The instructions state that the amount should be “fair” in light of the evidence presented at trial. It is your attorney’s job to understand how your life has and will continue to be, impacted. Only then can your attorney effectively communicate with insurance adjusters, defense attorneys, a judge, and 12 community members what it’s like to walk a mile in your shoes and what’s fair to you in terms of money damages.