In most cases, damages in personal injury cases are composed of two separate areas. The first are damages that can be reduced to a specific dollar amount or tangible damages. These include, for example, medical bills, medications, costs of future treatment, lost wages, and lost earning capacity. The other part of a damage award is comprised of intangible damages. This includes such things as emotional distress, pain and suffering, permanent injury and disfigurement. Those damages generally cannot be reduced to a specific dollar amount and their amount usually depends on a host of factors including the degree of fault that is attributable to the defendant and the severity of the injury
In the case of Marcotte v. Timberland Regional School District, the New Hampshire Supreme Court for the first time extensively discussed a form of intangible damages called hedonic damages. Hedonic damages are damages for the diminution of a person’s quality of life following an injury.
In Marcotte, the facts, unfortunately, were quite tragic. A young boy was killed when a soccer goal collapsed on him. The plaintiff, in addition to projected lost earning capacity, medical bills and funeral expenses, made a claim for hedonic damages. The plaintiff argued that the child would have enjoyed a certain quality of life based upon his intelligence and aspirations and that quality of life could be reduced to a compensable dollar amount. One of the methods used to show hedonic damages were photographs of the child showing him engaging in several of his favorite activities.
Following the Marcotte decision, which did allow the recovery of hedonic damages in a wrongful death action, hedonic damages have also been allowed in cases where a person was injured but not killed. Hedonic damages, again, compensate the injured party for the diminution of their quality of life caused by their accident. This can include, for example, activities that they can no longer do because of the accident or activities that they can only do with extreme difficulty.
Andrew J. Piela is a Director at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. Mr. Piela concentrates his practice in civil litigation, family law, probate and land use litigation. You can reach Attorney Piela by e-mail at [email protected].