Types of Compensatory Damages
There are two types of compensatory damages in Washington, economic and non-economic. Economic damages are intended to compensate for objective, out-of-pocket losses from an accident, such as medical expenses and lost wages. Non-economic damages are intended to compensate for subjective, non-monetary damages.
Types of Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages include, but are not limited to, pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, disability or disfigurement, and emotional distress. RCW 4.56.250(1) The statute that lists the types of non-economic damages that can be recovered in Washington also contains a section putting a cap on these damages. However, the Washington State Supreme Court held that this cap on non-economic damages was an unconstitutional infringement of the right of a jury to determine damages.
No Fixed Standard for Non-Economic Damages
If a personal injury case goes to trial, the jury will be instructed there are no fixed standards for computing non-economic damages, and that they should be governed by their own judgment and the evidence in the case. In many cases, non-economic damages may be the most significant injury suffered by the plaintiff. But since there is no hard evidence, such as bills or receipts, on which to base an award for non-economic damages, it may be difficult for a jury to assign a monetary value for these loses.
Physical injuries are oftentimes themselves divided into objective and subjective categories. Objective is then used to refer to those types of injuries which show up clearly on an x-ray or other imaging study, such as a broken bone. Subjective is used to refer to injuries to soft-tissues such as muscles and ligaments that do not tend to show on x-rays and depend more on the claimant’s reports of pain and restriction of movement to diagnose, such as whiplash following a car crash. Juries tend to award more in non-economic damages for objective injuries they can see on an x-ray then subjective injuries they cannot. Unfortunately, the opposite is quite frequently the case. A broken arm may heal in 6 to 12 weeks with no lingering effects. But it may take months or years for the pain from a whiplash injury to resolve.
A variety of factors may be considered by insurance companies in arriving at a monetary amount for non-economic damages. These factors include the severity of the injury, how long and consistently you sought treatment, how long it took you to recover, whether you had any pre-existing conditions that might arguably account for some of the symptoms you experienced after the incident, and whether your injury is in permanent. Certain findings in your medical records, such as muscle spasms, dizziness, radiating pain, headaches, restriction of movement, nausea, vision impairment, depression, and anxiety, may result in higher settlement offers.