How is “emotional damage” presented, and evaluated, and on what basis is it compensated in a court of law?


How is “emotional damage” presented, and evaluated, and on what basis is it compensated in a court of law?

In: 15

There’s compensatory damage and punitive damages in court. Compensatory damages are those that you can have a receipt for. You are asking the court for you to be compensated for something e.g. you have been diagnosed with PTSD, need to go to therapy and can’t work in your full capacity. The compensatory damages would cover your diagnosis, your therapy and lost wages. Punitive damages are those that deter someone from doing the same or similar thing in the future, they are meant to punish the defendant. How much you can be awarded in punitive damages is often dictated by state law; sometimes it’s a multiple of the compensatory damages.

The other comment is close, but wrong in some important ways.

Compensatory damages is money that is supposed to make up for the harm that has been caused and breaks down into two categories: economic damages, damages that are easy to calculate; and non-economic damages, damages like “pain and suffering” or “emotional damage.”

Economic damages would be things like the cost of past medical bills and future medical bills or the cost to replace damaged property. As far as I know, there are no caps on economic damages within the United States.

Non-economic damages are things that are less easily calculated. Non-economic damages are more abstract. Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be a cap to non-economic damages.

**How is “emotional damage” presented?**

Like everything else in a trial, evidence is shown to the factfinder, the party responsible for determining what is true or false. This is often a jury, but it can also be a judge in what is called a “bench trial.” This evidence would likely be testimony. The person who has experienced the emotional damage, the plaintiff, would tell the factfinder about how their life has changed for the worse, and the factfinder would determine if they believe the plaintiff.

For example, Danny negligently rides his big-wheel into Peter, breaking Peter’s leg. Peter can no longer run around on the playground. Peter tells the jury that running around on the playground is the best part of his day. Since Danny broke his leg, Peter no longer enjoys the playground. He is often sad. It is up to the jury to decide if they believe that Peter has experienced severe emotional harm because of Danny’s conduct.

**How is emotional damage evaluated?**

Non-economic damages, by definition, are very hard to calculate. The attorney representing the plaintiff will make an argument that they believe the jury will accept. It’s a bit of estimation.

For example, the attorney may argue that Peter’s favorite activity was running around the playground. All told, Peter will be unable to run around the playground for a whole year. That’s a whole year missing out on his favorite activity. That’s 365 days of sadness. How much is that worth? We want you to find in the amount of $365 for pain and suffering. That’s only $1 for every day that Peter cannot enjoy his favorite activity. Would you pay $1 a day to enjoy your favorite activity? Of course you would.

In a less ELI5 example, we read a case in law school where the plaintiff experienced neurological damage as a result of negligence from his employer. This neurological damage caused sexual impotence. Pain and suffering, in that case, included “loss of consortium,” the inability to continue having sexual relations with his wife. How much is the ability to have sex with your spouse worth to you? If you lost it, how much money would you want as compensation?

**On what basis is it compensated in a court of law?**

Emotional damage is compensated (a) based on what the jury believes the damage was worth; and (b) what limits, if any, exist in that jurisdiction.

Please let me know if I can clarify anything further.