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In personal injury lawsuits, lawyers talk about compensatory and punitive damages while economists may talk about hedonic damages. So what are hedonic damages?
"Compensatory" and "punitive" are legal terms about what money a victim an be awarded. Compensatory damages pay for the harm, both physical and emotional, done to the victim or victims. Punitive damages are additional amounts meant to further deter the defendants from repeating their actions.
Hedonic damages are technically an economic term, but they still have a place in the law.
The term "hedonic damages" refers to what lawyers call the loss of enjoyment of life. It's the intangible impact an injury has on your life.
It's easy for courts to measure many of the effects an injury has on a victim's life. Lost earning capacity, medical bills, and other expenses can all be measured by objective standards.
But other damages, like pain and suffering, are based on subjective testimony. Hedonic damages fall into that category as well.
Historically, judges have shied away from granting much when it comes to hedonic damages. It's not that they dismiss pain and suffering, but it's hard to quantify correctly. The law generally demands clear proof and without it, it's difficult to win your case.
That doesn't mean victims get nothing when it comes to the emotional loss of the ability to enjoy their lives; it's just that courts often give them much less than they ask for.
In order to prove something like "hedonic damages," a victim typically has to support the claim with evidence of what they can no longer do as a result of their injuries.
The younger the victim is, the more damages they're likely to get, since the loss will be felt over a longer period of time.
You probably won't hear the term "hedonic damages" used in a courtroom unless it's by an economist, but rest assured that courts are paying attention. For victims who can prove their case when it comes to loss of enjoyment of life, the law will generally award compensation.