How Much Compensation for Emotional Injuries?

emotionalOur clients sometimes incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.  They should be compensated for those bills. But the bigger harm in personal injury cases is the physical and emotional pain and suffering that comes with the victims’ injuries.

Today, we will look at compensation for emotional injuries in accident and medical malpractice cases to get a better idea how much money victims can expect to receive as compensation for this type on intangible but important injury.

Emotional Damages Statistics

Let’s start out with some hard numbers on compensation for emotional injuries nationally, provided by Jury Verdict Research.  This category includes cases involving emotional distress or post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Year Award Median Probability Range Award Range Award Mean
2004 $76,500 $10,489 – $313,750 $1 – $111,500,000 $1,055,011
2005 $85,692 $12,158 – $363,126 $1 – $200,000,000 $724,153
2006 $118,293 $14,651 – $662,500 $1 – $27,500,000 $1,269,809
2007 $94,234 $13,750 – $406,200 $1 – $23,550,000 $788,988
2008 $100,060 $20,000 – $356,250 $1 – $188,000,000 $2,667,935
2009 $57,500 $10,000 – $287,500 $1 – $21,000,000 $425,814
2010 $45,000 $6,000 – $250,000 $1 – $2,798,251 $236,998
Overall $81,000 $10,789 – $373,750 $1 – $188,000,000 $1,072,139

What jumps out at you in these numbers?  First, they are nine years old.  Sorry about that? But I don’t think the trial and settlement values have changed that much in the last 17 years I have been a plaintiffs’ lawyer.

The median award is about 12 times less than the average award.  Why is that?   First, the average jury award is almost invariably higher than the median award because the very large verdicts tend to lift the average.

Wrongful Death Cases

But the big reason the gap is so wide here between median and average is that there are two kinds of emotional injury cases: wrongful death and non-wrongful death.

Defense lawyers think for very old victims, the value of emotional injuries in Maryland is less than it would be for a younger person.   That would be true except that we have a cap on non-economic damages in Maryland wrongful death cases.

So almost any wrongful death case is going to get up to the cap on non-economic damages.  No defense lawyer is going to argue to a jury that the death of a person — the loss of whatever time they had left — is less than a million dollars.  (Nursing home case update: yes, someone made that argument just last week.)  These “sentimental losses” as they are sometimes called, tragically have the same value in Maryland because of our stone ages cap on a jury’s right to award an amount they believe is most appropriate.

Types of Emotional Injury in Non-Death Cases

So what about emotional injury claims in non-death cases?  Here are some examples of common emotional injury cases:

  • Emotional distress because of witnessing an injury or death to another person (in the “zone of danger”)
  • Emotional distress of not being able to see or play with your child
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Anxiety about potential future disease or death from an accident
  • Depression about the impact of physical injuries
  • Loss of consortium

What is the Value of These Types of Emotional Injury Cases?

The value ranges from the pennies to millions.  There is probably not an area of case evaluation that has more of a mercurial “it depends” factor than with this intangible injury.  Sometimes, emotional injuries are the bulk of a personal injury claim.  In other cases, the value is almost zero.  The key is how much suffering has been endured, would a reasonable person similarly situated endure that suffering, and whether the plaintiff’s attorney and the victim are able to adequately convey it to a jury.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

In Maryland, to bring the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the standard is whether the emotional injury is so acute that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.

Maryland courts are strict on these claims.  The evidence must be well-detailed to give the jury a foundation to quantify the injury.  Emotional injury claims also seem to kinda/sorta require that there be an injury capable of objective determination and that the evidence comes from more than just the victim’s say so.  (Note: our firm has only handled intentional infliction of emotional distress case in medical provider sexual assault cases.)

Pure Emotional Injuries Versus Physical/Emotional Injuries

This issue can be summarized as follows: emotional injury cases without physical pain are usually a very steep hill to climb.  Don’t get me wrong. These can be very large cases under the right circumstances.  But most of these cases fail.

 

 

 

 

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