Non-economic or "general" damages are most commonly referred to as "pain and suffering," but the concept includes so much more. It includes physical pain and emotional pain, both in the past and future. It includes disability, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life. It includes fear, frustration, worry, doubt, uncertainty, and sadness. The law provides no formula for placing a dollar value on any of these "intangibles," and so it is ultimately up to a jury to determine what they are worth. If you want to settle your claim, you and the insurance company will have to agree on the value of your pain and suffering. In order to maximize your claim, a good attorney will get to know you and how your injuries have affected your life. He will then make sure the insurance company knows exactly how your life has been turned upside-down, and he will seek to get you a recovery for each type of non-economic damage recognized by the law.
In this series of blog posts, I discuss different elements of non-economic damages: what they mean, how they are calculated, and how they can determine the outcome of your claim. In the previous blog post, I discussed physical pain and mental anguish. In this post I will discuss the concepts of disability, disfigurement and loss of enjoyment of life.
DISABILITY, DISFIGUREMENT, AND LOSS OF ENJOYMENT OF LIFE
As discussed above, what people often refer to as "pain and suffering" actually includes much more. The law does not define disability, but courts have interpreted it to mean not only the inability to work, but also the impairment of a person's ability to lead a normal life. Loss of enjoyment of life differs from disability where it involves the loss of a specific unusual activity, such as ballet dancing or playing the violin. Cosmetic disfigurement is a separate item because of the mental suffering that may accompany it.
I have had clients with claims that involve all of these components of pain and suffering.
First, as with physical pain, virtually every case involves some degree of disability. Because disability simply means the inability to lead a normal life, it includes things like not being able to make your bed or go shopping for groceries. Even being unable to work out in the gym counts as a disability if that was part of your pre-injury routine. It is important in every case to catalogue what kinds of activities you are unable to do or are limited in doing after the accident that you were previously able to do without limitation.
Loss of enjoyment of life is more specific, and I have seen it as an issue with musicians, bodybuilders, and yoga instructors, to name a few. Once I had a client who was a violinist. She sustained an injury to lower back and neck in a rear-end accident. Prior to the accident, she would practice playing her violin for several hours each day, but after the accident, she couldn't sit with her violin for more than ten minutes without severely aggravating her pain. In this case, my client's inability to play the violin was an additional element of damages, separate from her ordinary pain and suffering or disability. Had she been unable to resume playing the violin as her injuries healed, she would have been entitled to recover for future loss of enjoyment of life, as well as the future lost income she might suffer from not being able to play.
Finally, disfigurement pretty much speaks for itself. For instance, a scar or other visible mark that changes a person's visible appearance. The bigger the disfigurement, the more it can be worth. Also, the amount of compensation you receive could be affected by the scar's location. A three-inch scar on a person's face is worth more than a three-inch scar on her leg.
One of my clients was visiting a friend when she was attacked by the friend's large dog. The attack resulted in a dislocated shoulder and a deep scar from her nose across her lip to her chin. I had the client evaluated by an excellent, local plastic surgeon, who had experience testifying at trial. The surgeon recommended a course of treatment to reduce the appearance of the scar, but he stated that even after the procedure, the scar would still be visible. I was able to use that report to get a substantial recovery for the client.
The term "pain and suffering" is a simplification of all the different non-economic damages that an injured person is entitled to recover. As you can see, these non-economic, or general damages include physical pain and emotional distress as well as disability, disfigurement and loss of enjoyment of life. In the third and final blog post in this series, I will discuss making a recovery for non-economic damages resulting from injuries to a loved one.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, or any kind of accident, and is suffering from non-economic damages, call an experienced personal injury lawyer to insure that your recovery includes all of your damages, including disability, disfigurement and loss of enjoyment of life.