How to Assess Quality of Life
“Quality of life” is a phrase we often hear but may not truly understand until certain events happen to us or to our loved ones. When a catastrophic injury occurs, whether because of a motor vehicle crash, a workplace accident, or a defective product, our lives change in the twinkling of an eye.
Quality of life is about more than pain and suffering. It is about no longer being the same person we used to see in the mirror. It is about no longer having the ability to do the simplest things that brought us deep pleasure, such as hugging our child. How does one put a price on holding a loved one in our arms?
And yet, we ask juries to do just that; so we must assess the amount of quality of life that has been lost because of a catastrophic injury. We do so under what are called “non-economic damages.” Think of non-economic damages as being money that attempts to compensate you for no longer being the whole person you once were.
What Are Non-Economic Damages?
Non-economic damages are often called “pain and suffering” damages. While physical suffering is dreadful, remember that not all suffering is physical. Mental and emotional suffering arising from the loss of our former life and abilities can be almost as painful. But, as we have noted, such damages can be harder to define.
Examples of non-economic damages in Indiana are:
- Physical pain and distress, including a worsening of prior injuries, insomnia, and so forth
- Emotional pain (loss of enjoyment in life, mental anguish, post-traumatic stress from reliving the injury, disfigurement, and scarring)
- Loss of consortium (love and companionship specific to a spouse).
What Is the Value of a Life Well-Lived?
Juries can find it difficult to put a dollar amount on quality-of-life changes. That’s because such damages are subjective and can differ enormously from person to person. Here are three examples:
- You cared for your children while your husband worked, and you found much satisfaction and love in doing so. But an accident that left you a quadriplegic means you can no longer do so. You are suffering from a massive quality of life loss.
- You take great pride in providing for your family and working hard, but a catastrophic injury left you unable to contribute to the family coffers. Such a loss of self-esteem wounds you deeply, and you now suffer from severe depression.
- Your hobby was running. You routinely ran races and even traveled to participate in them. You suffer an enormous quality-of-life loss because you are no longer able to do so.
Changes in our bodies and our abilities after a catastrophic injury can bring about feelings of shame, of disgrace, and of humiliation. It is important to remember that our emotions are not rational. We cannot help how we feel about ourselves after a severe injury. Such emotions are one component of quality-of-life issues. If we feel that we need to hide because of how we look, or how we think we appear to the world, that’s a clear loss.
Other quality-of-life losses can be more concrete. For example, imagine how your life, and your enjoyment in it, might change if you were no longer able to:
- Play with your children
- Enjoy the fulfillment you previously took from your career
- Enjoy being the breadwinner of your family
- Get through a day without pain medication
- Get through a day without physical assistance from others
- Drive or travel freely by yourself
- Conceive another child or enjoy intimate relations with your spouse.
All of these circumstances represent a loss to your quality of life.
Types of Injures Affecting Quality of Life
When we speak of catastrophic injuries, we mean those that drastically alter the course of our lives and remove certain enjoyments or ease from it. Accidents that are generally considered catastrophic enough that they affect our quality of life result in injuries such as:
- Partial or full paralysis
- Loss of limb from medical necessity
- Traumatic amputation
- Traumatic brain injury
- Sight loss
- Personality and mood changes
- Inability to care for oneself.
Variables a Court Might Consider
Quality of life loss, if damages are to be assessed, must be quantified in some way. As you might expect, the question is exceedingly complicated, and not all factors that should persuade the court may actually do so. But a number of factors commonly influence judges and juries:
- Age and general health
- Activity level
- Work history
- The severity of the injuries
- The future expected for the person because of the injuries
- The issue of comparative fault and whether the liability issues are clear
- The nature of the recklessness or negligence
- Witness testimony
- The role insurance plays
- The socio-economic level of the victim
- Any efforts the victim has made to minimize losses
- The victim’s appearance.
Some of the questions you might be asked in court include:
- Did you work full-time before the injury?
- Did your injury affect your work status (did you lose job status or security)?
- Have you been able to return to work part-time or full-time?
- How has your family’s income been affected?
- Did your injury affect your marital status or satisfaction?
- Have you been able to resume your household duties? If not, which ones can you no longer perform?
- If you were attending school, have you been able to resume your studies?
- Have you lost enjoyment in a hobby that is important to you, or can you no longer participate in that hobby?
- Are you in pain, or must you take medication on a regular basis for pain?
But I Heard There’s a Formula …
There is no formula for calculating quality-of-life losses. Each case is unique. It is up to your lawyer to effectively argue your case, and up to you to follow your lawyer’s instructions in order to put on the best face that you possibly can.
Proving a reduction to your quality of life can be challenging, but with the right attorney, it can be done, and justice can be won.
When Something Goes Wrong, We Are Left to Wonder.
If someone’s negligent or reckless actions have caused a catastrophic injury to you or to a loved one, it is your right to seek compensation in a personal injury lawsuit. However, it is critical to have a knowledgeable and trustworthy legal professional representing you. We suggest you talk with the skilled and caring attorneys at McNeely Stephenson. Both Mike Stephenson, with his more than three decades of experience, and Brady Rife, with his diverse experience in personal injury litigation, will commit the highest standards of client care to your case.