When someone brings a civil lawsuit, especially in personal injury, they are seeking monetary damages. They may also be seeking an injunction, which is an order compelling someone to either continue or stop doing something, but monetary damages are the primary method of redressing civil wrongs. However, in many states, damage caps have been enacted on certain categories, and there is a lot of misinformation about which categories these caps apply to, as well as how they are determined.
Economic & Non-Economic Damages
Damages in civil lawsuits are categorized under two broad headings, economic and non-economic. Economic damages are those that are specific and can be shown with records, or at least estimated. Examples of this include medical expenses already billed, vehicle repair and home modification (for example, if you required a ramp to be added to your home). Non-economic damages are the other, less tangible expenses, such as pain and suffering, lost wages and loss of consortium or companionship.
Non-economic damages are, understandably, much more difficult to quantify than economic damages. Despite how difficult it is to arrive at a relevant figure, though, non-economic damages do have a place in civil courts, because sometimes the interruption to one’s life is simply worth more than the stark value of the damaged automobile or property and medical bills. In many states, South Carolina included, there is a cap on the amount that can be awarded as non-economic damages. However, South Carolina currently has a cap on non-economic damages in medical liability cases only, and even this has exceptions for some emergency care and obstetrics related injuries.
There is a third category, punitive damages, but these are damages assessed against the defendant with no other purpose than punishment. These are quite rare in this day and age.
Why Are Caps Necessary?
Many people wonder why any kind of damage cap is necessary, especially if someone has been hurt badly. The layman tends to see damage caps as unfair restraints on the money rightfully awarded by a sympathetic jury to someone who has been the victim of negligence or malice. However, the rationale behind caps tends to come from a wider perspective, rooted in keeping costs lower for everyone.
Groups of lawmakers and nonprofit organizations, such as the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), argue that low non-economic (and in some cases, punitive) damages keeps the overall economy on stronger footing. Juries with the near-unlimited power to grant non-economic and punitive awards not only contributes to systematic inequality, but also places the tort system in flux by adding to the strain on our courts.
Seek Experienced Assistance
If you have been in an accident through no fault of your own, it is important to know the nature of the compensation you may get, and what you may be denied. A qualified personal injury attorney can help answer your questions. The North Charleston personal injury lawyers at Callihan & Syracuse are happy to help you through the process of bringing a lawsuit, and will work hard to get you the best outcome possible. Contact us today to set up an appointment.