Caps on damages are literally “caps” on the monetary compensation or “damages” that can be awarded in certain types of lawsuits. They vary from region to region and differ in amounts and types of lawsuits affected. Those who are against caps on damages oppose the restrictions because they can limit the ability of judges or juries to establish a fair compensation for injuries.
The purpose of an economic damages award, such as loss of earnings, is to make an injured person “whole” again and can generally be calculated with a fair amount of certainty. On the other hand, awards of non-economic damages cannot be precisely measured in money and are often viewed as arbitrary rewards.
Obtaining appropriate and fair compensation for a personal injury often requires an attorney who is experienced at navigating systems with caps and damages.
Caps on Damages Deprive Victims of a Just Award
In most cases, a personal injury results in both economic and non-economic damages. Medical expenses, lost wages, and rehabilitation costs are considered economic damages which can be calculated with actual numerical values; whereas, damages for pain and suffering are deemed non-economic damages which are not easily calculated.
Determining the amount of non-economic damages is difficult and can be subject to broad discretion on the part of judges and juries—and is why caps on damages have gained political momentum. But many current reforms deprive judges and juries of the authority to exact awards based on the specific evidence of a particular case.
Both Sides of the Argument
Advocates of caps on damages for compensation of pain and suffering (or non-economic damages) argue that a lack of caps results in inconsistency and unpredictability in the tort system, and forces insurers, in anticipation of paying huge settlements, to charge higher premiums. Another problem, they say, is a tendency of juries to inflate non-economic damages to cover some or all of the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.
Those opposed to caps on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, say it punishes the worst afflicted victims disproportionately. The more pain and suffering that a plaintiff has endured, the more a cap on damages deprives him of compensation to which he is entitled.
The New York State Bar Association and patient-rights advocacy groups strongly oppose caps on damages, while hospitals and physicians generally support it.
Finding Legal Expertise in Cases with Caps on Damages
Caps on damages don’t consider differences in the amount of pain experienced by a victim such as the pain experienced by a brain cancer victim over a victim with a broken bone. Certain medical mistakes can lead to pain that lasts a lifetime while other mistakes lead to little or no pain. This discrepancy greatly impacts innocent victims by leaving very little negotiating room for settlements.