Courts award damages to pay back a person for loss or harm resulting from injuries caused by a defective product. The trier of fact (the jury in a jury trial or the judge in a bench trial) decides the amount of damages. The trier of fact has broad discretion in setting the amount of damages. The following are some of the factors considered in making an award: the injury, the need for future treatment, any disability, pain and suffering, age, occupation, and pre-injury health. A person’s life expectancy is also considered if the injury is permanent.
Compensatory or Actual Damages
The purpose of compensatory or actual damages is to return an injured person to the position he or she occupied before being injured by a defective product. Compensatory damages include out-of-pocket expenses. An injured person can recover medical, hospital and nursing costs; lost income; and reduced earning capacity. An injured person can also recover for physical pain and suffering caused by the injury. Mental suffering and distress that result from the physical injury or pain are compensated. If an injured person suffers a loss of enjoyment of life because of a physical disability that impairs the person’s ability to lead a normal life, he or she can recover damages. Any loss of personal property will also be compensated. Generally, property damages are calculated as the difference between the value of property before and after it was damaged. The reasonable cost of repairs is allowed, and there can be an award for the loss of use of the property. If the property is destroyed, the recovery is the value of the property before it was destroyed, less any salvage value.
Nominal damages refer to a trivial sum that is awarded when there is proof that an injury occurred but no actual loss or damage was proved.
Punitive damages are awarded to punish a person causing an injury or loss where the person is found to have acted maliciously, wantonly or recklessly. The courts try to deter the person and others from similar conduct in the future.
Loss of Consortium and/or Companionship
An injured person’s spouse can file a lawsuit for the loss of consortium and/or companionship that occurred because of the injuries caused by a defective product.
Most states have laws that permit money received by an injured person from health insurance and medical insurance (so-called collateral sources) to be subtracted from a damage award. Many states also allow benefits such as income disability insurance, Social Security, and worker’s compensation to be deducted from the damages that are awarded.
Setting Aside Jury Verdict
A trial judge can set aside the jury’s award of damages if the jury made a mistake of law or fact in reaching its verdict. The award can also be set aside if it is too much or not enough, if it shocks the court’s conscience, or if it was motivated by bias or passion.