Personal injury suits have common elements, including damages, or the financial recovery that you can receive should the other party be found guilty of negligence. Damages can be economic or non-economic. Understanding the distinctions between the two types and how the Indiana laws apply can be helpful when you bring a case.
Economic damages are expenses that you have paid or will pay out of pocket because of another’s negligence or recklessness. Economic damages are sometimes called special damages. Economic damages can include:
- Medical bills related to the accident or death, including future expenses and rehabilitation
- Final expenses if the victim is deceased
- The cost to repair or replace a vehicle (if applicable)
- Damages to restore or repair property
- Loss of household services due to the victim’s accident
- Reasonable attorney’s fees
Non-economic damages, also called general damages, are sometimes known as “pain and suffering” damages. After a catastrophic injury, non-economic damages can actually be greater than economic awards, so it is essential to try to recover all non-economic damages that apply to your situation.
Non-economic damages in a personal injury case are more complex and difficult to pin down. Examples of such non-economic damages 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).
Non-economic damages in a wrongful death case focus on the suffering of the survivors. Such damages can include:
- The mental anguish and grief of the survivors
- The loss of consortium by the bereaved spouse
- The loss of the love and companionship of the deceased by the survivors
- The loss of love and companionship by a bereaved child, including loss of parenting, advice, nurturing, and so on
Non-economic damages can vary depending on the type of life the victim led prior to the accident. For example, if the injured person enjoyed an active life, such as engaging in athletic competitions or other physical hobbies, and they were left with paraplegia or brain damage, they could very well have lost much of their enjoyment in life.
A second example is the following: If the victim normally drove to work, cooked dinner, took care of children, etc., and was left no longer able to do so, they could claim non-economic damages for losing their enjoyment in life. However, they could also claim economic damages in order to pay others to cook meals or to care for their children.
What Does Indiana Law Say?
Personal injury and wrongful death claims must generally be brought within two years from the date of the injury or death. There are a few exceptions: within 180 days when suing a city or county, and within 270 days when suing the state of Indiana.
While contributory negligence might reduce or even prohibit recovering damages except in cases of children 14 and under, there are no caps on non-economic damages in Indiana unless the claim is against the state ($700,000 cap).
In Indiana, there are no caps on economic (out-of-pocket) damages.
How Are “Pain and Suffering” Damages Calculated?
Such damages are, by their nature, difficult to measure, and the court often does not provide instructions for determining an award. But certain factors are taken into account:
- The extent of the injuries suffered
- Any disfigurement, scarring, or amputations resulting from the accident
- The victim’s inability to perform their usual or daily activities
- Any worsening of an existing condition
Occasionally, attorneys use a multiplier, meaning that the economic damages are multiplied by a certain number ranging from one to five, depending on the severity of the injuries, in order to calculate non-economic damages. For example, if a severely-injured victim with significant permanent injuries suffered $400,000 in economic damages, the attorney might argue for $2 million in pain and suffering damages, or five times the economic damages amount.
Possible Impact of a Record Case
In recent years, some have argued for caps on non-economic damages, calling some awards excessive. We believe that, in some cases, awards that might appear enormous are actually justified. Caps would prevent justifiable awards, and at least some judges in the southwestern U.S. agree with us.
In February, 2018, an appeals court in New Mexico upheld a 2015 verdict that awarded $165 million to a family in which two members were killed during a June, 2011, crash involving a FedEx Ground tractor-trailer. In an I-10 collision described as “horrific,” the tractor-trailer rammed into the family’s small pickup truck that was either moving at a very slow speed or was stopped. The driver of the pickup and her 4-year-old daughter died; the driver’s 19-month-old son was severely injured. The FedEx driver also died in the crash, reportedly hitting the pickup truck at 65 mph.
The appellate court’s decision denied FedEx Ground’s requests for a new trial or a reduction in the damages award; the corporation asked the court to “establish a threshold or an absolute financial limit on the value of life.” Instead, the three-judge panel ruled that appropriate and sufficient evidence was brought forth to support all damages awarded, including the non-economic damages, because of the family’s extensive pain and suffering for their losses. The judges wrote in their decision, “We refuse to implement such a legal threshold or limit” on damages.
When others breach their duty, we keep ours.
Wrongful death and personal injury claims can be costly to pursue, and many law firms are not in a position to effectively reach a resolution in these cases. You can be assured that our lawyers, and our financial resources, are willing to go the distance on behalf of you and your family. Our investigative team at McNeely Stephenson goes to work immediately to uncover the ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘when,’ ‘where,’ ‘why’ and ‘how’ of a case. We are committed to bringing together the most qualified experts available to uncover what happened.
You can be assured that our attorneys, Mike Stephenson and Brady Rife, are willing to go the distance on behalf of your family and in the memory of your loved one. We offer free consultations and would like to discuss how we can be of service to you. Call us today, or use our confidential online contact form.