Several different and separate categories of damages are available in personal injury cases, assuming proof is forthcoming for each category. This is a vital concept to explain to a jury, the key (in addition to clear liability) to receiving a large verdict.
Personal injury lawyers will talk about this concept in virtually every trial, in closing argument:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, in determining the value of this case, you are to consider the following 4 categories of damage: medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and disability. In taking your oath as jurors, each of you assured the Court, defense counsel and myself, that in reaching your verdict you would follow the law as instructed to you by the Court, and apply the law to the evidence you have heard in this case. I have presented evidence to you for each of these categories, and I remind you now of your oath. While you are entirely free to determine the value of each category, you must some assign value to each category without regard to the value of any other category. Why? Because that is the law.”
While potentially there are more than 4 categories of damage available, the 4 listed above are the most common. (For a complete listing of damage categories, see https://courts.illinois.gov/CircuitCourt/CivilJuryInstructions/30.00.pdf)
Economic vs Non-Economic Damages
The first two- medical bills and lost wages are deemed economic categories, and can be precisely computed on a dollar for dollar basis. The last 2- pain and suffering, and disability, do not have a precise dollar for dollar value, and are deemed non-economic categories of damage. There is no exact measurement of what constitutes pain and suffering or disability- that is something the jury, in its combined experience, must determine. Each of the economic and non-economic categories can be further divided into past and future elements. Past disability, for instance, refers to that time period from the date of injury to trial. Future disability refers to the period from trial forward until such time as the disability no longer exists (according to medical testimony).
Consider a a 30 year old person, the mother of 2 small children, who was involved in a car accident and suffered a serious nerve damage injury to her hand which has, and will permanently prevent her from lifting anything over 5 pounds. Among other things, this woman would be unable to lift and hold her children, unable to carry groceries, unable to functionally use her hand. A 30 year old has a life expectancy of 45+ more years, according to government life tables. If the car accident happened 3 years before trial, we’re talking a total time period of 48 years of disability. As is apparent, the longer the period of disability, the more activities the person is unable to perform, the greater the value of this one category of damage.
Next consider a 45 yr old man who suffered a permanent spinal injury which required surgery, and has left him needing a morphine pump and prescription pain medication to control his pain. If sitting as a juror, what would you include in your verdict for this type of pain over the course of the next 30+ years? Especially combined with claims for disability and economic damages, you can see how a verdict could run into the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.
In those personal injury cases where a jury returns a verdict of millions of dollars, you can be sure that the injury is life altering, and that the claims for pain and suffering and disability are substantial. Understanding the potential for non economic damages in your case is essential for determining case value.