As Idaho attorneys and Boise lawyers, we are often asked what “damages can I get in a lawsuit?” Some ask, “in a personal injury settlement, what damages am I entitled to?” In medical malpractice cases, claimants question, “what categories of damages can the jury award money for?” Clients in product liability cases inquire “what can I get money damages for?” Here are some basic answers and bullet points to these questions on damages under Idaho law.
In Idaho, in medical malpractice, product liability, and personal injury cases, the law allows for two general types of money damages: (1) economic damages; and (2) non-economic damages. The first category, economic damages, are your hard, out of pocket damages, provable with a receipt, so to speak, that were caused by the negligence of the defendant. These include past damages, for things like medical care, attendant care, miscellaneous of pocket expenses, and loss of income, and future damages, for medical care, attendant care, loss of income. The other category, non-economic losses, are the more intangible losses, sometimes referred to as pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. You don’t have receipts for these. They are the human toll the defendant’s negligence has taken on your, your family, and loved ones. They are the value of living with the consequences of preventable harm, sometimes permanently, forever. There is no specific formula by law for non-economic damages, and it is what the jury determines is just.
The official Idaho Jury Instructions spell out money damages as follows:
If the jury decides the plaintiff is entitled to recover from the defendant, the jury must determine the amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate the plaintiff for any damages proved to be proximately caused by the defendant’s negligence.
The elements of damage the jury may consider are:
A. Non-economic damages
1. The nature of the injuries;
2. The physical and mental pain and suffering, past and future;
3. The impairment of abilities to perform usual activities;
4. The disfigurement caused by the injuries;
5. The aggravation caused to any preexisting condition.
B. Economic damages
1. The reasonable value of necessary medical care received and expenses incurred as a result of the injury [and the present cash value of medical care and expenses reasonably certain and necessary to be required in the future];
2. The reasonable value of the past earnings lost as a result of the injury;
3. The present cash value of the future earning capacity lost because of the injury, taking into consideration the earning power, age, health, life expectancy, mental and physical abilities, habits, and disposition of the plaintiff, and any other circumstances shown by the evidence.
4. The reasonable value of necessary services provided by another in doing things for the plaintiff, which, except for the injury, the plaintiff would ordinarily have performed [and the present cash value of such services reasonably certain to be required in the future];
5. [Any other specific item based upon the evidence.]
Whether the plaintiff has proved any of these elements is for the jury to decide.
In wrongful death cases, for loss of a loved one, the official Idaho Jury Instructions define damages as follows:
If the jury decides the plaintiff is entitled to recover from the defendant, the jury must determine the amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate the plaintiff for any damages proved to be proximately caused by defendant’s negligence.
The elements of damage the jury may consider are:
1. The reasonable cost of the decedent’s funeral.
2. The reasonable value of necessary medical care and expenses incurred prior to the decedent’s death.
3. The reasonable value to the plaintiff of the loss of the decedent’s [services] [training] [comfort] [conjugal relationship] and [society] and the present cash value of any such loss that is reasonably certain to occur in the future, taking into consideration the life expectancy of the plaintiff, the decedent’s age and normal life expectancy, habits, disposition and any other circumstances shown by the evidence.
4. The plaintiff’s loss of financial support from the decedent, and the present cash value of financial support the decedent would have provided to the plaintiff in the future, but for the decedent’s death, taking into account the plaintiff’s life expectancy, the decedent’s age and normal life expectancy, the decedent’s earning capacity, habits, disposition and any other circumstances shown by the evidence.
Death is inevitable. Although the law compensates for the untimeliness of a death caused by another, no damages are allowed for grief or sorrow.
[There can be no recovery for any pain or suffering of the decedent prior to death.]
It should also be noted that, in Idaho, non-economic damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life are capped, currently at about $375,000 per claimant. This cap can be removed and lifted if the jury determines that the defendant’s conduct was “reckless,” i.e., that the defendant knew or should have known of a high risk of harm but did the act or omission anyway. The Idaho Code section on this is as follows:
6-1603. LIMITATION ON NONECONOMIC DAMAGES. (1) In no action seeking damages for personal injury, including death, shall a judgment for noneconomic damages be entered for a claimant exceeding the maximum amount of two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000); provided, however, that beginning on July 1, 2004, and each July 1 thereafter, the cap on noneconomic damages established in this section shall increase or decrease in accordance with the percentage amount of increase or decrease by which the Idaho industrial commission adjusts the average annual wage as computed pursuant to section 72-409(2), Idaho Code.
(2) The limitation contained in this section applies to the sum of: (a) noneconomic damages sustained by a claimant who incurred personal injury or who is asserting a wrongful death; (b) noneconomic damages sustained by a claimant, regardless of the number of persons responsible for the damages or the number of actions filed.
(3) If a case is tried to a jury, the jury shall not be informed of the limitation contained in subsection (1) of this section.
(4) The limitation of awards of noneconomic damages shall not apply to:
(a) Causes of action arising out of willful or reckless misconduct.
(b) Causes of action arising out of an act or acts which the trier of fact finds beyond a reasonable doubt would constitute a felony under state or federal law.
In certain cases, additional money damages may be awarded, if certain criteria are met and the court allows the jury to consider them, to punish the defendant, called “punitive damages” under Idaho Statute:
6-1604. LIMITATION ON PUNITIVE DAMAGES.(1) In any action seeking recovery of punitive damages, the claimant must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, oppressive, fraudulent, malicious or outrageous conduct by the party against whom the claim for punitive damages is asserted.
(2) In all civil actions in which punitive damages are permitted, no claim for damages shall be filed containing a prayer for relief seeking punitive damages. However, a party may, pursuant to a pretrial motion and after hearing before the court, amend the pleadings to include a prayer for relief seeking punitive damages. The court shall allow the motion to amend the pleadings if, after weighing the evidence presented, the court concludes that, the moving party has established at such hearing a reasonable likelihood of proving facts at trial sufficient to support an award of punitive damages. A prayer for relief added pursuant to this section shall not be barred by lapse of time under any applicable limitation on the time in which an action may be brought or claim asserted, if the time prescribed or limited had not expired when the original pleading was filed.
(3) No judgment for punitive damages shall exceed the greater of two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000) or an amount which is three (3) times the compensatory damages contained in such judgment. If a case is tried to a jury, the jury shall not be informed of this limitation. The limitations on noneconomic damages contained in section 6-1603, Idaho Code, are not applicable to punitive damages.
(4) Nothing in this section is intended to change the rules of evidence used by a trier of fact in finding punitive damages.
As each case is unique, contact Mahoney Law at our headquarters in Boise, from where we serve all of Idaho, to discuss what money damages you might be entitled to in your personal injury claim, product liability case, or medical malpractice case.