We have handled many civil cases in Missouri. In each case, we work to establish the two components we need to win: liability and damages. The jury determines that a company or person is “liable” for a bad act when the jury finds the company or person to be the proximate cause of the bad act. Once liability is established, the jury must determine the monetary amount that will “balance the scales” and put the aggrieved party back in the position they would have occupied but for the bad act that hurt them. This post is dedicated to a broad overview of Missouri’s law on damages and answers the question, “How much money can I recover in a Missouri lawsuit?”
First, it is important to understand that there is no precise formula or equation that a jury must use to arrive at a damages figure at trial. The jury must tailor their efforts to the unique facts and circumstances of the case at hand. For example, suppose the same defective machine explodes and burns two workers. Both workers are in their early thirties, and both workers have families to support. There is no doubt about liability- the machine is certainly defective and should not have exploded. However, Worker One suffers a badly burned and disfigured face in the blast. Worker One will be able to work again, albeit in a limited capacity. Worker Two suffers a badly burned left arm that is eventually amputated. Worker Two will be unable to work again. Even though the fault of the machine manufacturer is the same with respect to each worker, it will be the jury’s job to determine how to compensate each worker. The method that jury uses to compensate Worker One may be different than the method the jury uses to compensate Worker Two. So what can the jury consider?
Actual damages consist of money measured by the loss sustained. Actual damages can include medical bills, pain and suffering, future anticipated medical needs, loss of enjoyment of life and other items. In our cases, we take a multi-pronged approach to establishing actual damages. We typically start with medical bills incurred as a result of the injury. In the case of Worker One and Worker Two above, we would request all medical and billing records from all of the care providers who saw each worker. We would summarize, in an easy-to-understand chart, the cost of the care that Worker One and Worker Two each received. For purposes of illustration, assume Worker One had $250,000 in medical bills including out-of-pocket medical bills and bills that were paid by some form of medical insurance. Assume Worker Two had $500,000 in bills.
We would then begin to think about what other out-of-pocket losses Worker One and Worker Two incurred. We often hire a forensic economist who helps us to understand the true measure of lost wages. We must also be careful to consider other lost benefits, such as employer-provided health insurance, employer-provided retirement funding, health savings accounts, and other employee benefits that might have been lost as a result of the explosion. We use statistical data derived from the United States Department of Labor to help us determine how long an injured person would have been able to work but for their injury. We then extrapolate the lost earnings figure over that time period, and calculate the total lost wages in benefits in present-day dollars. For purposes of illustration, assume Worker One has lost wages and benefits amounting to $750,000. Assume Worker Two has lost wages and benefits amounting to $2,000,000.
An often overlooked item of damages is the household services that an injured person can no longer provide to their spouse or children. The family of an injured person often incurs substantial expense to deal with tasks that the injured person once took care of at home. For example, a lawn service might need to be hired to maintain the lawn, and a housecleaner might need to be hired to keep the house tidy. We use Department of Labor statistics to estimate the monetary value of the services the injured person provided and we generally extrapolate this figure over the life span of the injured person. Assume the value of the lost household services for Worker One and Worker Two are $200,000 and $100,000, respectively.
Suppose that Worker One will be able to return to work eventually and will not need a lifetime of medical follow-up and specialized care. In contrast to this situation, Worker Two needs a lifetime of surgical treatment on his burn areas and will require a series of prosthetics as he grows older. In this situation, we may hire a licensed professional nurse to evaluate and carefully cost out the price of Worker Two’s medical care. This is called a “life care plan.” Assume that Worker One has a life care plan with a value of $0. Assume that Worker Two has a plan with a value of $200,000.
Missouri law provides that an injured person may also recover for pain, humiliation, and mental anguish. These categories of damages are notoriously difficult to evaluate. Our Firm has used mock juries to help educate our clients about what the value of these damages might be. In these instances, we hire several groups of twelve people from the community where the case is going to be tried. We present a “mini trial” to the groups over the course of one or two days. We then put each group into a private room where they must reach a “verdict” and assess pain and suffering damages. We often videotape this process and we talk at length with each group about what they thought the pain, suffering and anguish was “worth.” This process typically gives us a range of what we can expect at trial. Suppose for Worker One the mock jury’s high estimate of “pain and suffering” damages is $2,000,000. The low estimate is $500,000. Suppose for Worker Two the mock jury’s high estimate is $1,500,000 and the low estimate is $500,000.
Thus, going into trial we would reach the following estimates for case value for Worker One and Worker Two:
|Worker One||Worker Two|
|Past Medical Expenses||$250,000||$500,000|
|Lost Wages and Benefits||$750,000||$2,000,000|
|Lost Household Services||$200,000||$100,000|
|Life Care Plan||$0||$200,000|
|Pain and Suffering||$2,000,000 to $500,000||$1,500,000 to $500,000|
|EXPECTED CASE VALUE||$1.7 to $3.2 million||$3.3 to $4.3 million|
We use our case value estimates to help guide our clients in weighing out any settlement offer the defendant makes before trial. Suppose, for example, the defendant in Worker One’s case makes a settlement offer of $2,000,000 to end the case. Suppose the offer for Worker Two is also $2,000,000. We could advise Worker One that the offer is within the bracket of the money we would expect to recover at trial. Worker One would be wise to consider accepting the offer. We could advise Worker Two that the same offer of $2,000,000 was not within the bracket of what we would expect to recover at trial. Worker Two would be wise to reject that offer and to hold out for an increased offer.
Our Firm takes the time to make sure you understand how Missouri’s laws on damages impact the value of your case. We look forward to the opportunity to educate you about your case. The choice of an attorney is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements.