The Key Differences Between Economic and Non-Economic Damages in Personal Injury Cases

When filing a personal injury claim after a car accident or other incident, it is crucial to understand the distinction between economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to tangible, documented losses like medical bills, lost income, and property damage. These damages are calculated based on receipts, pay stubs, and repair estimates. On the other hand, non-economic damages cover intangible losses like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. Unlike economic damages, non-economic losses are more subjective and have no direct monetary value.

The amount of economic damages awarded is typically easier to determine, as there is documentation to support the victim’s financial losses. Non-economic damages, however, depend on the specific circumstances and severity of the injury. For instance, a minor soft tissue injury from a fender bender may result in lower non-economic damages than a debilitating spinal injury from a high-speed collision. While caps on non-economic damages exist in some states, the ultimate value depends on what a jury or judge deems reasonable.

Economic and non-economic damages should be pursued to fully compensate the victim when filing an injury claim after an accident. Understanding the key differences between these two types of damages allows victims to maximize their recovery. Our personal injury lawyers can evaluate your losses and help you build the strongest case possible to recover damages for medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses from the accident.

What are Economic Damages in Personal Injury Cases?

Economic damages refer to tangible, documented financial losses incurred directly from an accident or injury. These damages are intended to compensate the victim for actual expenses and losses with a calculable dollar value.

Some examples of economic damages in a personal injury case include:

  • Medical expenses – This covers hospital bills, ambulance fees, physical therapy, medications, assistive devices, and other medical costs related to treating the injury. Detailed receipts and invoices are needed to prove these damages.
  • Lost income – If the injury prevented the victim from working for some time, the lost wages can be recouped as economic damages. Pay stubs and tax returns help substantiate lost income.
  • Loss of future earning capacity – If the injury is permanently disabling, the victim’s reduced ability to earn income can be included as economic damages. Expert testimony is often required to estimate this number.
  • Property damage – Repairs or replacement costs for any property damaged in the incident, such as a car, bicycle, medical equipment, etc., can be claimed. Repair estimates, bills, and photographs help document property damage claims.

The key is that economic damages must be directly tied to specific, measurable financial losses with documentation to support the amounts. Pain, suffering, and emotional distress are not economic damages because they are non-monetary, subjective losses. Economic damages are intended to restore the victim to their condition before the incident financially. Keeping organized records is crucial to obtaining full and fair compensation for all accident-related out-of-pocket expenses and losses.

What are Non-Economic Damages in Personal Injury?

Non-economic damages refer to losses that do not have a direct monetary value and are subjective in nature. These damages are intended to compensate for intangible injuries or losses that negatively impact one’s life.

Some common types of non-economic damages in a personal injury case include:

  • Pain and suffering – This covers physical pain resulting from the injury and emotional suffering like mental anguish, humiliation, and anxiety. More severe injuries generally result in higher pain and suffering damages.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life – If the injury prevents engaging in hobbies, activities, or experiences that previously brought joy, this can be claimed as damages. For example, if a leg injury from a car accident prevents someone from hiking or skiing.
  • Loss of consortium – Injury victims can claim damages for the injury’s impact on relationships with family members, such as loss of companionship.
  • Emotional distress – Emotional trauma like depression, lack of sleep, PTSD, and other mental health issues stemming from an injury can be included in a claim.

Because non-economic damages are not financially quantifiable, the amount awarded is subjective and depends on the specific circumstances of each case. Factors like the severity and permanence of the injury, length of recovery, and impact on quality of life help determine reasonable compensation for non-economic losses. While economic damages reimburse tangible expenses, non-economic damages provide recovery for losses that also greatly impact victims but are harder to assign a dollar value.

Key Differences Between Economic and Non-Economic Damages

Economic and non-economic damages are the two main categories of compensation available in personal injury cases. Understanding how these two types of damages differ is crucial when pursuing a claim.


Type Definition Calculation Caps
Economic Tangible, documented losses (medical bills, lost wages, property damage) Precisely calculated based on financial documentation Typically no caps
Non-Economic Intangible, non-monetary losses (pain/suffering, emotional distress) More subjective, based on circumstances Caps exist in some states

Economic damages cover quantifiable losses that can be calculated based on receipts, pay stubs, repair estimates, and other financial documentation. For example, invoices, tax returns, and pay stubs can precisely determine medical bills and lost income. Calculating economic damages is generally straightforward.

Non-economic damages involve intangible, non-monetary losses that have no direct dollar amounts associated with them. Quantifying pain and suffering or emotional trauma requires expertise from an experienced personal injury lawyer. The amount depends on the unique circumstances of each case. Unlike economic damages, some states cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice or other cases.

While economic damages reimburse concrete financial losses, non-economic damages provide recovery for the often devastating impacts on one’s quality of life and relationships resulting from an injury. Accident victims must pursue economic and non-economic damages through a personal injury claim to be fully compensated. An attorney can help maximize recovery by thoroughly documenting special damages and advocating for fair general damages. Contact our office for a free consultation if you have suffered losses in an accident.

Examples of Non-Economic Damages in Personal Injury Cases

Non-economic damages in personal injury cases compensate for intangible, quality-of-life losses. While every case is unique, some common examples of non-economic damages include:

  • Pain and suffering – Accident injuries often involve significant physical pain during treatment and recovery. The more severe and prolonged the pain, the higher this element of damage often is. Back injuries, broken bones, and burns typically result in high pain and suffering awards.
  • Emotional distress – Injuries, especially traumatic ones like dog bites or spinal cord injuries, often cause emotional trauma like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and sleep loss. Damages can provide counseling and therapy for resulting mental health issues.
  • Disfigurement – Scarring and loss of a limb from an injury that permanently changes one’s appearance qualifies for non-economic damages. The more visible the disfigurement, the higher the awards tend to be.
  • Loss of companionship – Injuries that disrupt family relationships, intimacy, or ability to care for loved ones warrant compensation for loss of companionship. Paralysis, brain injuries, and other debilitating injuries commonly result in these damages.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life – If an injury prevents involvement in activities that previously brought happiness, like sports, hobbies, or travel, damages can compensate for lifestyle changes and losses. Knee injuries, spinal cord injuries, and other mobility-limiting injuries often lead to these damages.

While no amount of money can undo the damage, non-economic damages provide accident victims with needed compensation for how an injury forever changes their lives. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help document intangible losses and advocate for adequate damages.

How Personal Injury Lawyers Calculate Non-Economic Damages

Since non-economic damages are intangible and difficult to quantify, experienced personal injury lawyers rely on various factors to calculate fair compensation for these subjective losses:

  • Severity of injury – More severe injuries that result in longer recovery periods, greater pain and suffering, and more permanent impact warrant higher damages. Minor soft tissue injuries typically result in lower awards than brain damage or paralysis.
  • Duration of suffering – Awards directly correlate to the length of time pain, emotional distress, and lifestyle limitations persist. Short-term pain results in lower damages than lifelong issues.
  • Plaintiff attributes – Older or more vulnerable victims sometimes receive higher awards than young, healthy individuals. Preexisting conditions may also alter awards.
  • Evidence and testimony – Detailed records proving pain levels and emotional trauma help substantiate claims. Expert witness testimony also lends credibility when quantifying subjective damages.
  • Jury perceptions – The ultimate award often comes down to what a jury deems reasonable given the evidence presented in court. An attorney’s skill in advocating for fair compensation based on the case’s unique circumstances is crucial.

Thoroughly documenting the effects of an injury and humanizing the plaintiff in front of a jury can help maximize non-economic damages. An experienced personal injury lawyer has the expertise to gather evidence, retain experts, and craft compelling legal arguments to recover damages for losses that negatively impact the quality of life yet have no invoice or receipt. Contact our office for a free case review.

Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases

Punitive damages are monetary compensation awarded to punish and deter egregious, reckless behavior. Unlike economic and non-economic damages that compensate for losses, punitive damages are intended to punish the at-fault party as retribution and deter similar future misconduct.

Punitive damages may be awarded in personal injury cases where the liable party’s actions went beyond mere negligence and involved intentional harm, malice, or gross recklessness. For example, drunk driving resulting in injury would warrant punitive damages since driving while intoxicated shows a disregard for others’ safety. Manufacturers and medical professionals may face punitive damages if they knowingly conceal the dangers of products or procedures.

While compensatory damages cover quantifiable and intangible losses suffered by the victim, punitive damages are focused on punishing the defendant and sending a message that certain harmful actions will not be tolerated. They are awarded separately from economic and non-economic damages. The amount of punitive damages is subjective and left to the judge or jury’s discretion. Higher net worth defendants often face larger punitive damage awards.

Punitive damages serve an important public purpose – deterring intentional wrongdoing and harmful misconduct. An experienced personal injury attorney can advise if punitive damages may be appropriate in your case. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

Maximizing Compensation in Your Injury Claim

When pursuing compensation after an accident, taking steps to maximize your total recovery is crucial. Here are some tips:

  • Document all damages – Keep detailed records of medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and other economic losses. Also, record the effects of the injury on your relationships, activities, and emotional well-being to support non-economic damages. Photos, journal entries, videos, and statements from others help capture non-economic impacts.
  • Hire an experienced personal injury lawyer – A personal injury attorney thoroughly familiar with state laws, insurance company tactics, and the components of injury damages can build the strongest case for full compensation. They know what evidence to gather, how to prove hard-to-quantify non-economic damages, and when punitive damages may be warranted.
  • Negotiate a fair settlement amount – The settlement should cover all applicable damages – medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, etc. An attorney can credibly convey damages during settlement talks and has the legal expertise to negotiate effectively. They can take the case to court if a satisfactory settlement is reached.

The best chance at maximizing compensation is to document all accident-related losses diligently and have a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer argue for damages. Our firm has extensive experience constructing persuasive injury claims, resulting in millions recovered for clients. Don’t leave money on the table – contact us for a free consultation to discuss getting you the maximum settlement or court award possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between economic and non-economic damages in a personal injury case?

Economic damages refer to tangible financial losses that can be calculated, like medical bills and lost income. Non-economic damages cover intangible losses like pain and suffering that are subjective and harder to quantify. A personal injury lawyer can help recover both types of damages.

What are some examples of non-economic damages in a car accident case?

Common examples of non-economic damages after a car accident include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life if injuries limit activities, and loss of companionship if the injuries disrupt family relationships.

How does a personal injury lawyer calculate the amount of economic damages?

A personal injury lawyer calculates economic damages based on documentation and evidence like medical receipts, pay stubs, tax returns, and repair estimates. Economic damages are intended to cover financial losses, so documentation is critical.

What is the difference between compensatory and punitive damages in a personal injury case?

Compensatory damages like economic and non-economic damages cover losses suffered by the victim. Punitive damages are intended to punish and deter egregious actions by the at-fault party. Punitive damages may be awarded in cases involving gross negligence or intentional harm.

What types of damages may be available in my vehicle accident injury claim?

Economic damages like medical bills and lost wages, non-economic damages for pain and suffering, and punitive damages in certain misconduct cases may be available. Contact a personal injury lawyer today for a free consultation on maximizing damages available for your vehicle accident case.


  • Economic damages cover financial, documented losses like medical bills and lost income. Non-economic damages involve subjective, intangible losses like pain and suffering.
  • Economic damages can be precisely calculated, while non-economic damages depend on the specific circumstances and severity of the injury.
  • Caps may limit non-economic damages depending on state laws, unlike economic damages.
  • Hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer is key to maximizing compensation and recovering damages for all accident-related losses.

If you have suffered injuries and damages in an accident caused by another party, it is important to understand the different types of compensation available. Our attorneys have extensive experience documenting economic and non-economic damages to build the strongest injury claim possible. We will aggressively pursue maximum compensation for your medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses. Contact our office today for a free consultation to discuss your potential personal injury case. Our team is here to help you recover the settlement you deserve.

By Carol Cooperman