One of the first thoughts that comes to mind when most people think of personal injury lawsuits is the concept of a “big money” award. What doesn’t generally cross the mind of most people is why “big money” awards occur and the hurdles injured individuals face when it comes to monetary settlements or “winnings.” Money damages are a type of relief that awards money as compensation for some injury. Unlike the amount asked for in a money demand, the amount of money damages is not immediately obvious from the facts of the case, and must be assessed by the trier of fact. In the American civil judicial system, monetary relief is often the only form of compensation an injured individual can receive as a result of their injury.
States have a variety of different types of money damages that can be awarded in civil litigation. Words that are frequently thrown around in conversation are: economic damages; noneconomic damages; and punitive damages. However, there are misconceptions about what these words actually mean and how a jury can award each type of damages.
Categories Of Damages
The two most common types of damages discussed in a North Dakota personal injury case are economic and noneconomic damages.
Economic Damages: Under N.D. Cent. Code 32-03.2-04(1), economic damages are “damages arising from medical expenses and medical care, rehabilitation services, custodial care, loss of earnings and earning capacity, loss of income or support, burial costs, costs of substitute domestic services, loss of employment or business or employment opportunities and other monetary losses.”
Economic damages are the most tangible form of damages. In general, a personal injury attorney can point to past medical bills, past lost wages, the cost of a loved one’s funeral, etc. as past economic damages to an injured party. Similarly, sometimes a personal injury attorney is able to prove future economic loss by showing an injured party will need ongoing medical treatment or that they will not be able to work anymore, etc.
Economic damages tend to be easier to prove because the attorney can “show the receipts” so to speak. These damages are important as they serve to compensate the injured person for the expenses they have had to cover on their own fruition.
Noneconomic Damages: Under N.D. Cent. Code 32-03.2-04(2), noneconomic damages are “damages arising from pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, emotional distress, fear of injury, loss or illness, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, injury to reputation, humiliation, and other nonpecuniary damage.”
In stark contrast to economic damages, noneconomic damages are entirely intangible. The age old question amongst attorneys, insurance companies, injured individuals, and, perhaps most importantly, juries, is “how does one measure ‘pain and suffering?’” Converting pain, suffering, fear, emotional distress, humiliation, etc. into dollars is no easy task. However, often, in personal injury cases, the noneconomic damages are considered more important to the injured person than the economic damages.
There are often no receipts or bills to look back at when calculating noneconomic damages. This makes finding an attorney capable of explaining the importance of an injured person’s noneconomic suffering and why that suffering translates to dollars vitally important.
Importantly, punitive damages or “exemplary damages” may also be awarded in North Dakota under certain circumstances.
A damage cap is a limit placed on the amount of money damages a plaintiff can receive. Attorneys in North Dakota must also consider ‘caps’ on damages in certain types of cases against particular defendants. Two of the most notable damage caps in North Dakota are for health care malpractice claims and claims against political subdivisions.
Health care malpractice claims: Under N.D. Cent. Code § 32-42-02, plaintiffs in health care malpractice actions are limited to $500,000 in noneconomic damages. This damage cap applies regardless of the number of health care providers and other defendants that are involved in a given case.
Claims against political subdivisions: Under N.D. Cent Code § 32-12.1-03(2), damages awarded to plaintiffs against political subdivisions are limited to $375,000 per person and $1,000,000 for any number of claims arising from any single occurrence regardless of the number of political subdivisions, or employees of such political subdivisions that are involved. Additionally, under the same section, political subdivisions cannot be held liable, or be ordered to indemnify an employee held liable, for punitive or exemplary damages.
This article is for informational purposes only and is subject to our disclaimer.