Damages are awarded in successful civil instances in order to put the injured party back into a position that they would have been in had the events in the case unfolded as planned or if the transaction had not taken place at all. For example, in a contracts case, if one party ordered and paid for widgets, and does not receive those widgets, then he should be able to get his money back or the court could force the other party to provide the widgets as promised. Sometimes, however, the position that you were in before the deal is not easy to quantify into a dollar amount. In cases where the injury is either physical or emotional, damages are very difficult to estimate.
In cases where the injury is either physical, emotional, or both, the court uses a variety of methods to attempt to determine the appropriate amount of damages. For example, if someone has been harmed physically and needs to go to the hospital, then part of the compensation will often include money to cover the hospital bills. If an individual has been troubled emotionally and needs to see a therapist, then the bills for that service will often be considered to figure damages. In addition, the court will often look at past cases to determine what type of monetary award that juries have given to the victim under similar circumstances. If the award that the jury gives is significantly smaller or larger than past awards then the court may intervene to adjust the damages granted.
A 2011 Delaware Supreme Court case illustrates this concept very well. In this case, a son and mother were exposed to asbestos while operating a car repair business for over forty years in Louisiana. They died after contracting mesothelioma; the mother died two years prior to her son’s death. Several issues came up in this case regarding the payment of damages. The lower court declared that two businesses were partially liable for the death of these individuals. Therefore, those businesses were ordered to pay $500,000 to the four remaining family members for the loss of their mother, $0 to the son for the loss of his mother, $80,000 to the mother’s estate for pain and suffering, and $1.6 million to the son’s estate for his pain and suffering. All of these funds were given to the four remaining family members.
The jury was instructed to consider each damage award separately so that each award would be fair based on the individualized circumstances. However, when the Court of Appeals reviewed the damages, it commented that the damage awards were probably considered as a whole. It also reasoned that the jury should not award damages to an individual who was deceased at the time of trial. That would explain the lack of damages for the son’s loss of his mother. On the other hand, this reasoning did not explain why he could receive damages for pain and suffering and not for the loss of his mother.
The Supreme Court of Delaware requested that the lower court find out if Louisiana law allowed people who are deceased at the time of trial to receive damages at all. If not, then the damages as a whole for the son are inappropriate. The Court of Appeals’ assumption that the damages were considered as a whole does not coincide with the fact that the jury was instructed to consider each damage award separately. The Supreme Court of Delaware also noted that a damage award of $0 for the son’s loss of his mother is unheard of in these types of cases. Even if he only suffered from the loss of his mother for the two remaining years that he was alive, the Supreme Court of Delaware believed that he should have been awarded something for that loss.
This case illustrates that damages issues can be very complicated. Some injures can get awards while others generally do not. Trained attorneys can help with damages, specifically what a victim can collect damages for. Call the Berniard Law Firm Toll Free at 1-866-574-8005 if you have been injured; we will be happy to help with any of your legal questions.