What are Caps on Civil Lawsuit Damages?
The most common remedy in a civil lawsuit is damages. Damages are monetary compensation granted to a plaintiff. Damages are divided into several categories, including economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages can usually be itemized, such as medical expenses or lost wages. For instance, hospital bills, rehabilitation, or the cost of having your car fixed after an automobile accident are examples of economic damages. Non-economic damages are the ones granted to a plaintiff in compensation for the pain and suffering that the accident caused, or for emotional suffering. Unlike economic damages, which can be calculated by looking through documents such as medical bills and repair receipts, non-economic damages can prove difficult to quantify. It is not uncommon for a jury to reward a plaintiff with very high non-economic damages because they feel sympathy for the injured person on account of the pain caused by the accident. However, many states have placed "caps" on what a plaintiff can collect in terms of non-economic damages. These caps are typically in the range of several hundred thousand dollars.
Injured individuals and anyone sympathetic to a plaintiff may question why states would put such caps on the amount of money an injured person can collect for his or her pain and suffering. Legislators and lobbyists who are in favor of damage caps often present the argument in terms of the economic impact. If hospitals or corporations are liable to every injured person for extremely high non-economic damages, the cost of those high monetary awards is going to be filtered down to the average consumer by inflated prices. The Georgia Supreme Court disagrees and in 2010 ruled that damage caps violate Georgia's Constitution, which gives injured plaintiffs the right to trial by jury.
There are certain exceptions to caps on non-economic damages. One, for instance, would be in the case of catastrophic injuries — or injuries that are extremely serious, permanent and life changing. If the injuries a person suffered fall into this category, then the individual might be able to collect non-economic damages greater than the capped amount. Depending on the laws in the relevant state, there might be no cap at all, or the cap might just be set at a higher amount than the cap for non-economic damages in cases of non-catastrophic injuries. Plaintiffs in certain cases may also collect punitive damages, which are damages meant to punish the defendant in certain particularly egregious cases. In many places these damages can actually be much higher than the other forms of damages, although the amount of punitive damages permitted will vary by state as well.
The theory of damages in civil lawsuits is that they are supposed to make the injured party "whole" again. In some cases, the damage done to a plaintiff may indeed be entirely monetary. The reality of personal injury law makes this goal far more difficult to achieve and the various forms of damages are meant to provide fair compensation to people who have suffered as the result of the actions of other people.
If you have been injured in an accident caused by someone else's negligence you should speak with an attorney at Montlick & Associates to learn what your rights are, and what steps can be taken to protect those rights.
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