What are “Non-Economic Damages” in Texas Personal Injury Cases?
Summary: There are two basic classifications of damages that an injured victim has a right to demand from the negligent party that caused an accident. Economic (or general) damages are objective and are awarded as the injured victim’s actual monetary losses. For example, medical bills and lost income are both economic damages. They can be easily calculated by adding up the amounts paid out and, if necessary, computing each until the end of treatment and when the victim is able to return to work – whenever those dates may be.
Non-economic (or special) damages, however, involve a more subjective approach by an experienced injury attorney. There are several types of these “relative” damages that injured victims can recover in a Texas accident claim or case.
- Pain & Suffering: These physical and emotional damages apply to past and future pain and suffering. A seasoned injury lawyer combines your own input, testimony of those who treat you, and certified medical professionals to come up with accurate and fair pain and suffering damages. They are short-term and long-term damages that you have suffered and expect to continue to suffer, considering how your injury will affect your physical welfare in the future.
Factors that influence plaintiff pain and suffering computations include:
- Pain from actual medical treatments
- Long-term or chronic pain
- Emotional/mental trauma
- How the injury alters the victim’s quality of life
- How much pain prevents the victim from performing their simple, normal tasks
- Fear, discomfort, or anxieties the victim now experiences that were not present beforehand.
Insurance companies closely examine the pain and suffering demands they receive and have their own arbitrary formula to determine their counter-offers. Often, they just multiply the amount of medical bills by a number between one and five to calculate “pain and suffering.” The more severe and permanent the injury, the higher the multiplier should be. If negotiations progress in good faith, somewhere between injured plaintiff demand amounts and the insurance company counter-offers is a “middle amount” that both sides can agree to. If not, this pain and suffering award depends on a civil trial jury.
- Physical Impairment: This accounts for any physical restriction, including mobility, limited range of motion, and inability to perform activities of daily life. In catastrophic injury cases, an example would be a paralyzed person’s restriction to a wheelchair. In other cases, physical impairment might include an injured victim’s inability to participate in sports, hobbies, or other recreational activities. The plaintiff must prove that the injuries from the negligent defendant have significantly degraded their quality of life.
- Disfigurement: This has to do with the appearance of the injured plaintiff after an accident. This is proven by demonstrating that the plaintiff has been physically “maimed, misshapen, or cosmetically affected” by injuries as a result of the other party’s negligence.
However, the award amount can be relative depending on the victim. If, for example, a 35-year-old firefighter suffers a burn injury to the neck and upper chest, the amount he or she may receive could be noticeably smaller than if a young television news reporter or beauty contestant was hurt in exactly the same way. Also, younger people with their lives still ahead of them may be more sympathetic victims than a retired person who is identically injured.
- Mental Anguish: If the injured plaintiff was injured by a particularly traumatic event, the victim may have suffered deep emotional wounds in addition to physical injuries. Let’s say that a burn victim in a rollover accident was trapped in a terrifying fire, but rescued at the last minute. The gut-wrenching fear of being burned to death while lying helpless – even if the victim escaped alive - is profound. And this terrifying emotional experience could be relived for years. Usually a mental health professional will at least give a deposition attests to how the event has affected the victim’s emotional state. If there’s a trial, they will also testify for the plaintiff.
- Loss of Consortium: These damages are recoverable if someone loses the love, affection, protection, care, and companionship of a close family member. This mostly applies to wrongful death claims or cases. Usually the loved one is a direct relative: a spouse, child, or parent of the injured party or wrongful death victim.
Limits to the Amount of Damages an Injured Plaintiff Can Receive for Non-Economic Damages
There is a $250,000 cap on the amount of non-economic damages an injured plaintiff can receive against a single defendant in Texas medical malpractice cases; these limits directly affect the amount of the damage award that can be negotiated with the insurance company.
Also, if the State of Texas (any of its branches) is the defendant, the total non-economic damage recovery can be no more than $100,000. This means that no matter how much the jury deems your pain and suffering (or other non-economic damages) to be worth, you cannot come away with more than that $100,000 amount (plus, of course, your economic damages).
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