On this blog, we have talked a lot about damages. We probably all have a general idea of what damages are, but what does it mean in the context of the law? Is it the multiple of damage, is it damage done to someone else, or perhaps is it a TV show starring Glenn Close. To clarify things, in the legal context damages are the sum of money that a plaintiff is claiming for her injuries.
There are four categories of damages that can be claimed:
Economic Damages. This can also be called "special damages." These are damages that can easily be summed up, and are supported by bills, receipts or lost wage documents. In other words, they are tangible losses. For instance, if you were in a car accident and your medical bills were $10,000, then you would likely be compensated $10,000 of economic damages; or if you missed work 5 days, you would be compensated for the value of that as well. Economic damages also include future losses, such as estimated future medical bills and time off of work.
Non-Economic Damages. Otherwise known as general damages, non-economic damages are a little harder to calculate than economic damages; these are damages that are awarded to compensate for things like pain and suffering, disfigurement, permanent damage, loss of companionship and loss of consortium. Non-economic damages tend to be a controversial issue. In many states, including Utah, there are caps on this damage which assign a completely arbitrary maximum amount of money that can be awarded to a plaintiff if they successfully argue their case. Some states that have previously had this law have overturned the cap, because it is unconstitutional to interfere with a jury’s right to decide what would appropriately compensate someone with severe injuries.
Punitive Damages. These damages are awarded when the conduct of the defendant is considered to be so out of line and reckless, that an additional financial hit is needed in order to punish them. The intent of awarding this damage to a plaintiff is not only to punish the defendant, but to keep the reckless and wanton behavior from persisting. It is fairly rare to see this damage awarded, but there are some examples in some high-profile cases such as the OJ Simpson civil trial and the McDonalds Hot Coffee case. For this damage, the jury will decide on the amount with the oversight of the judge.
Nominal Damages. Occasionally, when someone brings a suit where they have not suffered any substantial injury a jury will award a small amount of money (usually one dollar) to simply show that the jury acknowledges the wrongdoing of the other party. In certain jurisdictions, nominal damages can also cover the costs of the lawsuit.
Are you curious about more legal definitions or have legal questions? Let us know in the comments. Or give us a call.