Noneconomic damages are those losses and harms that are not easily susceptible to calculation. Often generically referred to as “pain and suffering,” they include so much more. These damages are subjective, and depend on the life experiences of the judge or jurors.
Types Of Noneconomic Damages
In Maryland, juries are typically given an instruction about the noneconomic damages that they can include in their verdict:
The “Noneconomic Damages” sustained in the past and reasonably probable to be sustained in the future. All damages which you may find for pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of consortium, or other nonpecuniary injury are “Noneconomic Damages.”
A description of these damages may be helpful:
- Pain and Suffering: used to describe physical discomfort and distress, as well as mental and emotional trauma
- Inconvenience: causing a disruption to one’s schedule or out of one’s way (for example, having to attend doctor’s appointments)
- Physical Impairment: limitations on physical abilities, whether permanent or temporary (for example, inability to walk without crutches)
- Disfigurement: changed appearance or deformity (often used for burns, scars and other obvious wounds)
- Loss of Consortium: fellowship of husband and wife, including material services, society, guidance, companionship and sexual relations
Limits On Noneconomic Damages
Unlike economic damages like property damage, medical expenses and lost wages, noneconomic damages are limited in Maryland by a cap. The cap applicable depends on the year of injury and the type of case. Medical malpractice cases have a cap different from other types of personal injury (including automobile accident cases). Additionally, wrongful death cases have higher cap.
For automobile accident cases, the cap for injuries between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013 is $770,000.00 for the claim by the injured person (regardless of whether he lived), and $1,155,000.00 for wrongful death claims with two or more beneficiaries.
This means that (for this time period), $770,000 is the most a victim of an automobile accident can recover, no matter how horrific his injuries are. If the injuries eventually cause his death, the most his estate and beneficiaries can recover (assuming two or more beneficiaries) is a total of $1,925,000.
The individual cap increases by $15,000.00 every year, and the wrongful death cap is calculated by multiplying the individual cap by 1.5.
Increasing Settlements And Verdicts With Noneconomic Damages
Every automobile accident is a story, and every victim of an accident has his or her own unique story. Unless the accident and its aftermath were clearly horrible, it can be difficult to convince an insurance adjuster about the value of a victim’s noneconomic damages claim. A clear demand letter is vital, and the lawyer must truly understand what his client has been through.
In most cases, if a Maryland automobile accident victim has particularly high noneconomic damages (and if the insurance available is high enough), it is best to file a lawsuit and allow the defense attorney to take the victim’s deposition. The insurance adjuster may show up to the deposition, or he may watch it if it was recorded. At the very least, the defense attorney will talk to the adjuster about his impressions of the victim. Those impressions, if the victim testified well, can have a significant impact on the settlement and trial values of the case.
At trial, there is one more thing that good lawyers will do to increase the value of the noneconomic damages verdict. It is often difficult for victims to talk about themselves and what they have gone through—both because it can be too personal, and because they are afraid of being perceived as weak or as a complainer. It is important for someone close to the victim, a friend, family member or employer, to testify on his behalf. That will help the judge or jury to truly understand the victim’s ordeal.
One final note—at trial, juries do not typically know about the noneconomic damages cap. The news frequently reports on high verdicts “awarded” by juries, but it often fails to note that, under Maryland law, those verdicts are routinely knocked down by the judge after the jury is dismissed.