Pecuniary Damages in Tort Law

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet
When someone is injured because of another's negligence, the law allows for damages to be sought by the victim. In this lesson, we will explore the meaning of pecuniary damages, and how those damages are determined.

Pecuniary Damages

Terrance had been injured at Bob's lumber mill. He was out of work for six weeks, and he incurred $5,000 in medical bills. Bob didn't want his insurance to go up, so he told Terrance he'd pay him for his losses. So Terrance presented him a bill for $13,000 which included his lost time from work, medical bills, and travel to the rehab facility. Bob paid immediately, but was that a fair amount?

In a personable injury suit, the court will award pecuniary damages, which include emergency and medical care.

A tort, which is Latin and means ''torqued' or ''twisted'', is a lawsuit based on a personal injury caused by someone's negligence. The law requires that the tortfeasor (the injuring party), make them whole again. But how? Can we heal them? Can we take away their stress and pain? No, but we can pay for their medical bills and other pecuniary losses, which are those relating to money. But what about the stress and pain? How does the court deal with those?

Elements Of A Tort Case

First, the court will look at whether a tort occurred, and that requires proof of the elements or facts needed to be a personal injury claim:

  1. Duty is the obligation that people in a society owe those around them to not place them in harm's way. For example, when you ski down a mountainside, you have a duty not to impale others with your skis.
  2. Breach happens when a person with a duty fails to fulfill that duty. If your skis do impale someone, then they breached their duty to not impale them.
  3. Causation means that the breach of their duty is the actual cause of the harm. If Kaylah shot at a moose from her kitchen window, and the moose ducked and the bullet hit Cindy Lou sitting at her dining room table, then it's a good chance your action caused her death. But what if she had died of a heart attack moments earlier? Then you didn't cause her death.
  4. Damages is a term that means, tangible harm for which the court can award a monetary amount. If you breached a duty, and that breach caused injury to someone, then you owe them for those injuries.

Pecuniary Damages

Once the elements are proven, the court will determine the damages. There are many types, but most fall into two broad categories:

  • Special damages , are those tangible items for which a pecuniary amount can be easily quantified, such as medical bills, lost wages and property replacement and repair amounts.
  • General damages are the intangible quality of life items such as pain and suffering, emotional distress or any loss that does not have a direct monetary value, but the court will place a monetary value on them.

If we award money for general damages, aren't they all pecuniary? Think of it like this, if the loss isn't pecuniary, then the damages aren't pecuniary. For example, if someone borrows $50 from you and doesn't pay you back, how much would it take to pay you back? There certainly was stress, annoyance, and inconvenience, but those are not monetary losses.

If you want to take that a step further, you could say you lost more than $50 because you lost the interest or missed investment opportunities, but those are quantifiable, and that is how a court will look at your pecuniary damages.

Determining Pecuniary Losses

If you sued your friend for the $50, would the court award you more? The court would readily award interest as this is easily calculable and obvious. But let's say you routinely put money in a CD or mutual fund, and this time you couldn't. Is this a reasonably foreseeable loss? Probably. A foreseeable loss is one that the parties foresaw or reasonably should have foreseen would be a result of the loss.

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