Often many clients will ask, when before a jury, “how much are you going to tell them to give me for my injuries?” My answer is always the same – “the law does not allow us to tell the jury how much to give, they have to come up with that number by themselves.” This may seem strange at first, for how is a jury supposed to decide how much money to give an injured person if we don’t tell them what we want? In Pennsylvania, unlike other states, the parties cannot tell the jury how much to give or not to give a person claiming injuries. It is left to the collective wisdom and experience of the jury to place the measurement of monetary value on injuries, and for an attorney to specifically suggest a dollar figure as compensation for the injuries is to invade the province of the jury.
Instead, the jury is told by the judge what kinds of damages can be awarded money damages. In Pennsylvania, an injured person bringing a negligence claim may have two categories of damages. The first is economic damages, which are the losses suffered due to wage loss or medical expenses. These damages are finite and specific because they are measured by the actual loss or payment resulting from the injury. So if someone in a car accident breaks a leg and misses two months of work, totaling $20,000, and then has medical bills totaling $5,000, then the total economic damage is $25,000 that the jury may award to the person. A jury may decide to award all, some, or none of the economic damages put forth by the injured person because, again, it is the jury’s province to decide the extent of damages.
The other category of damages is called non-economic damages. These damages are commonly referred to as “pain and suffering” and jurors typically have a difficult task in deciding how much pain and suffering is worth. Again, the jury is provided definitions of pain and suffering, for which a jury may award money damages. The following are the different types of non-economic damages for jury consideration: physical pain, mental anguish, discomfort, inconvenience and distress. Also, an injured person is entitled to be compensated for any embarrassment and humiliation suffered, as well as the loss of one’s ability to enjoy the pleasures of life. Finally, if there is scarring or other outward change to the body due to negligence, a jury may award money damages for such disfigurement.
These types of non-economic damages are told to jurors so they may consider if the person has actually suffered any of these losses and, if so, to what extent for purposes of coming up with a monetary value for the damages overall – both economic and non-economic. One never knows how a jury may determine the value of injuries and litigants often feel jury awards are too high, too low, or just right. Regardless, the jury is left in deciding how much, if any, to award money damages in personal injury cases.
For further information, feel free to contact me.