What Does the Term "Non-Economic Damages" Mean in Personal Injury Law?

When a person is injured in an accident through no fault of their own, that person may be able to recover financial damages from the person or entity responsible for the accident by pursuing a personal injury claim. The damages that a person may recover compensation for in a personal injury claim may be classified as either economic damages or non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are defined as identifiable monetary losses, and are typically easy to quantify. The cost of a person's medical bills would be one common example of economic damages for injury victims. In a typical personal injury claim, medical bills would be included as a form of economic damages that an injury victim would seek to recover from the at-fault party.

Non-Economic Damages 

Non-economic damages are more difficult to quantify because they account for intangible costs and losses. The most common example of non-economic damages is pain and suffering that an injury victim has experienced as a result of an accident.

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) gives a further explanation of non-economic damages:

An injured person is entitled to recover money for non-economic damages incurred, defined as subjective, non-monetary losses, including but not limited to, pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement and loss of enjoyment of life experienced and with reasonable probability to be experienced in the future. See WPI 30.05; RCW 4.56.250.

Washington law defines pain and suffering as both mental and physical, and shall include all subjective non-monetary losses, including but not limited to, inconvenience, mental anguish, and emotional distress, which has been experienced and with reasonable probability to be experienced in the future. See WPI 30.01; WPI 30.05; RCW 4.56.250. 

In Washington state the “loss of enjoyment of life” is defined to mean the loss of the ability to enjoy the pleasures and amenities of life, including ones vocation or avocation. Wooldridge v. Woolett, 96 Wn.2d 659, 638 P.2d 566 (1981).

The term “disability” includes not only the incapacity to work but also impairment of the injured person’s ability to lead a normal life. Parris v. Johnson, 3 Wn.App. 853, 859-60, 479 P.2d 91 (1970).

Example of Economic and Non-Economic Damages

Imagine the following scenario involving a fictional person named Dave:

Dave has been injured in a car accident with a distracted driver. The other driver was ticketed by police and is therefore at fault for the accident.

Dave was taken to the hospital in an ambulance from the scene of the collision and diagnosed with multiple injuries that will keep him out of work for two full weeks. Dave is normally an active person and has many hobbies including hiking, playing with his children, and maintaining his yard and home. The following is a hypothetical breakdown of some of the economic and non-economic damages that Dave might potentially claim:

Economic Damages

  • Cost of repairing damage to car;
  • Medical bills, including ambulance ride and future medical care;
  • Lost wages due to missed time at work;
  • Cost of household chores, such as yard maintenance.

Non-Economic Damages

  • Inability to enjoy regular everyday hobbies;
  • Physical and emotional distress;
  • Loss of consortium.

Again, this is only a hypothetical example of what types of damages a car accident victim might be able to recover by pursuing a personal injury claim. If you have any questions about pursuing a claim for damages, you may call our office at 206-727-4000.

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.