Non-Economic Damages: Devastating but Difficult to Prove
Most injury victims know that they can be compensated for economic damages like medical bills, lost earnings, and property damage, but what about pain and suffering?
In Colorado, a person injured in an automobile accident may be able to recover damages for pain and suffering. Damages for pain and suffering are classified as non-economic damages and can sometimes be very difficult to prove, since they are not easily defined or quantified without the assistance of an experienced accident lawyer and qualified experts.
What Are Non-Economic Damages?
Non-economic damages are injuries that impact an injured person’s ability to enjoy the everyday pleasures of life, or the satisfaction that human beings derive from living, separate from earnings. They may be claimed by the injured victim or by the family of victims who have died or were injured severely.
Non-economic damages may include:
- Physical pain
- Mental suffering
- Losses related to one’s reputation
- Disability or disfigurement
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Loss of companionship or consortium
In addition to physical pain and suffering, seriously injured victims often suffer great mental anguish, anxiety, and shame at going from an able-bodied individual to someone who is dependent on others. A seriously injured person may be compromised in their ability to:
- Make independent decisions
- Take independent action
- Return to work
- Participate in athletic activities, social and civic events, hobbies, and volunteer opportunities
Under federal law, non-economic damages must be reasonable. Typically, they are limited to no more than 10 times the amount of economic damages awarded and cannot be issued for losses that are purely imaginary or invented by the plaintiff. Non-economic damages have a greater chance of being awarded if they can be traced to some sort of physical manifestation.
Colorado Damage Caps
More than 30 years ago, Colorado passed a series of tort reform laws, one capping the amount of non-economic damages that an injured plaintiff could recover at $250,000. In 2007, these caps were increased for inflation a move the Colorado legislature intended to ensure that non-economic damages in excess of the cap be awarded only to the most severely injured and damaged plaintiffs.
The current non-economic damage cap in Colorado for people injured after January 1, 2008, is $468,010, which can be increased by the court to a maximum amount of $936,030, if clear and convincing evidence is present to justify the increase. The cap applies:
- To all personal injury cases, not just those considered frivolous or without merit
- No matter how seriously a person was injured
- Regardless of what a jury decides that a victim is entitled to recover
Exceptions to Colorado Damage Caps
There are limited exceptions to the general cap for non-economic damages in Colorado. One involves categorizing certain damages as permanent physical impairment. In most cases, there is no cap on damages awarded for permanent physical impairment and because there is no universally accepted definition of what permanent physical impairment is, experienced personal injury attorneys have been able to argue for permanent physical impairment damages with some success.