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What Factors Determine Noneconomic Damages in Personal Injury Cases?

Recently, I was asked by a reporter, “what factors determine noneconomic damages in personal injury cases?”

Noneconomic damages are individualized and not subject to formula and standardization, especially for larger cases. Damages are dependent on the circumstances and apparent motivations of the individuals involved. The jury will evaluate these factors in developing their impressions as to the amounts to award to measure what they feel is fair compensation for the hell and the losses one has, and will, go through.

Juries are made up of a group of people with differing experiences, opinions, and motivations. They bring to the jury room all those different points of view. They have been impressed, however, with an exceptionally large verdict, with the tremendous burden and damage placed on the plaintiff(s), along with, probably, the greatly wrongful acts and omissions of the defendant(s). They didn’t like what happened; and they are trying to make a statement as to what they think is fair.

In cases that end up with small awards, many times the jury is unimpressed with the attitude of the plaintiff (he doesn’t really want to go back to work, even though he says he does, etc.); and they come into the jury box with the well-known publicity of verdicts being too high, insurance costing too much, and a substantial verdict will raise insurance rates even higher; plaintiffs are just out to “hit the lottery;” and all the other false PR that has been done by insurance companies over the years to keep verdicts low. The essence though, is the impression jurors have of the plaintiff and whether the PR can be turned around by the evidence and the people in the courtroom. Are they trying? Are they doing their best? Do I believe (in) the plaintiff?

Hopefully, a connection develops between the plaintiff and the jury. The jury believes the plaintiff and believes in the plaintiff. The damages are horrendous and can’t be reversed. There is no amount of money that could compensate someone for having this kind of existence after having such promise and being worthy of a “sky’s the limit” type of life. The plaintiff’s life has gone from one of “joie the vivre” to a daily torture at the gates of Hell. As Dante put it, “All ye who enter here abandon all hope.”

That one person with an identical injury may be awarded a greater amount than another is a product of who that person is and how that person and their lawyer connect with the jury. It is the same as any movie you watch – you root for the underdog, the hero, the one who deserves to win. Their loss becomes your loss. Their defeat, your defeat.

Heiting & Irwin specialize in plaintiffs’ personal injury cases.

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