A loss of enjoyment of life (LEL) claim in a personal injury law suit involves a jury’s assessment of the daily activities and hobbies that can no longer be performed due to an injury that was caused by someone’s negligence and/or a doctor’s or health organization’s malpractice.
What is Pain and Suffering?
While some courts lump this in with damages for pain and suffering, LEL claims are distinct from pain and suffering in that they represent something that has been taken away from the plaintiff. Pain and suffering, on the other hand, involves physical pain and distressing psychological reactions like anxiety, depression, fear, grief and humiliation that have occurred since the time of the injury.
What is the Loss of Enjoyment in Life?
The loss of enjoyment of life damages are non-economic or hedonic injuries that are not directly quantifiable but can be categorized and described. These damages are not measured in emotions but in activities that can no longer be performed. They can vary in severity based on the injury in question. If you are considering a plaintiff who has been injured to the point of paralysis, coma or permanent illness, the LEL damages can be considerable.
In many cases, the LEL awards for someone who was more physically active are higher than for someone who was not. For instance, if a truck driver hits a plaintiff and the accident causes paralysis, the LEL award would be quite high if the plaintiff was a high school physical education teacher who jogged every day, lifted weights, and backpacked and biked on holidays.
The loss of enjoyment of life would be a number of physical activities. If the plaintiff was a former Olympic gold medalist, it would be a very bad public relations situation for the truck company and a huge economic loss in terms of the LEL damages.
While losing your body’s mobility, as in the case of paralysis, would cause immeasurable pain and suffering, the loss of enjoyment of life damages are very specific regarding the lifestyle of the plaintiff. It does not require a tremendously active lifestyle to receive LEL damages.
Anyone who loses the ability to enjoy life with a child or grandchild through a permanently debilitating injury has lost something central to the enjoyment of life. This loss may cause pain and suffering, but this is not the same as having the enjoyment of that activity taken out of one’s life because of the injury.
Medical Malpractice Facts
Paralysis, coma and permanent injury can result from someone’s negligence or as an act of malpractice or both. The six states with the highest medical malpractice awards in 2011 are New York with $677,866,050, Pennsylvania at $319,710,250, Illinois with $242,108,800, New Jersey at $221,170,750, Florida with $218,123,050 and California at $215,519,200.
It’s clear that plaintiffs continue to receive generous awards for malpractice, and loss of enjoyment of life damages can result in awards of $1 million and up.
How the Courts Handle LEL Awards
There has been a lot of controversy over whether damages for pain and suffering should be included with loss of enjoyment of life. Some state courts believe that grouping the damages together prevents inflated awards. However, other states have determined that these two types of damages should be considered separately because they can be clearly defined and affect different areas in an individual’s life.
Even if the awards are higher due to the separation of the two categories, this may result due to careful consideration of the effects of the injury on the plaintiff’s life. Studies indicate that detailed jury instructions and separation of the two damages result in higher awards.
This may be because jurists have a heightened appreciation for the plaintiff’s loss when instructions ask for a careful assessment of loss and when reparation for the loss of life activities is considered separate from psychological distress.
This article was written by Luis Morton on behalf of criminal defense lawyer and specialist Michael S. Berg, who practices out of San Diego, California.