WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF DAMAGES IN TORT CASES?
Sometimes it’s important to go back to basics and remember we are not just involved in some high stakes game, but are representing people. People who are entitled to justice.
“Money makes the world go around,the world go around, the world go around,Money makes the world go around, it makes the world go around” From the musical Cabaret
“The best things in life are free, but you can keep them for the birds and bees Now give me the money, that’s what I want…” Sung by the Beatles in 1963
“It’s a very personal, very important thing. Hell, it’s a family motto. Now are you ready?…OHHH! SHOW ME THE MONEY Doesn’t that make you feel good just to say that Jerry. Say it with me one time brother…” Cuba Gooding, Jr. Movie Jerry Maquire 1996
There is only one reason why the civil justice system exists and that is to do justice. Justice in a civil tort case is potentially a
two part procedure. The first duty is to determine which party should prevail
based upon the facts and law. If the plaintiff is entitled to a verdict, the next
duty is to determine the amount of the verdict. The only way justice can be
achieved, in that instance, is by a money verdict in a reasonable and fair
amount. While the law speaks about restoring injured people to their original
situation through the verdict, we know that in tort cases the money will not
restore life or limb. However, it does not follow that therefore, no money
should be provided or only the bills should be paid or that arbitrary
limitations should be imposed on verdicts. Nor has a jury fulfilled it’s duty
by a verdict which is less then full justice because anything less then full
justice is an injustice.
But how should a jury evaluate what full justice is? It can only be done by comparing the harm done to a sum of money which reasonably and fairly equals the harm. It is only when the scale is accurately balanced with money on one side and the extent of harm on the other. That requires careful examination of each element of damage which the lawprovides. It means each element must be individually weighed from a dollarstandpoint until the money and harm are equal. It’s done objectively without regard to reservations on the total so
long as it is reasonable and fair considering the facts, evidence and harm done.
This consideration requires breaking the evaluation
process down into legal categories. The first category is time – past and
future. Evaluation of damages should be done in two separate time periods of
past and future. Past damages may and probably do differ from the effect of
future damages over remaining life. More importantly, since the plaintiff is
entitled to only one day in court – one time for a jury verdict – the damages
must cover his or her entire life and not just the present moment.
Damages also differ in type. One category are economic
damages. Those damage which are capable of calculation for such things as wage
loss, medical bills, property damage and the like. Another category are non
economic damages. Those damages which represent the effect upon the injured
person. They include such things as the nature and extent of injury,
disability, disfigurement, pain and suffering and the loss of enjoyment of
life. The fact there is no convenient yard stick to measure these by does not
allow the jury to ignore them or treat them as impossible because to do so
would result in an injustice under the law.
In order to achieve full justice it is essential the jury
understands the two time periods and the fact there are two kinds of damages:
economic and non economic. The jury must be told these are very different.
Economic damages are based upon need and specific dollar expenses. Non economic damages have nothing to do with need or specific expenses. Don’t let defense counsel confuse the jury that the only role of damages is to pay bills or to
suggest that the jury should evaluate what the “needs” of the plaintiff are in
money. Non economic damages have nothing to do with needs, bills or specific
economic issues. They only have to do with making the dollars equal to the harm
irrespective of such economic needs. To the extent you can make the jury
understand this vital point and award full justice in dollars you have done
your job as a plaintiff’s attorney in a tort damage case.
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