When someone else is responsible for causing personal injuries they are responsible to pay for the damages. But what are damages? In Oklahoma damages are defined as:
the amount which will compensate for all detriment proximately caused thereby, whether it could have been anticipated or not. 23 O.S. 61
A judge, jury or insurance adjuster cannot undue the damages which have been caused. All they can do is award an amount of money that will compensate for all detriment. When a jury in Oklahoma tries to determine the amount of money to compensate the injured person, they are to consider the following:
- The injured person’s physical pain and suffering, past and future;
- The injured person’s mental pain and suffering, past and future;
- The injured person’s age;
- The injured person’s physical condition immediately before and after the accident;
- The nature and extent of the injured person’s injuries;
- Whether the injuries are permanent;
- The physical impairment;
- The disfigurement;
- Loss of earnings or time;
- Impairment of earning capacity;
- The reasonable expenses of the necessary medical care, treatment, and services, past and future.
Once the jury has considered all the factors they can then determine an amount of money that is appropriate. However, that is not necessarily what the injured person will receive. The Oklahoma legislature has decided there is a limit to how fair they want to be with victims of negligence. They have enacted damage caps in Oklahoma to limit how much negligent people and companies have to pay for the damages they have caused.
With few exceptions, non-economic damages are limited to $350,000.00. 23 O.S. 61.2 This can make a big difference for a retired person when they suffer serious injuries. As an example, let’s start the example with a man who is entering his golden age of retirement, who is active with hobbies, does projects around the house and enjoys playing with his grandchildren. On a nice day he takes his motorcycle for a ride. While riding he comes to a complete stop for traffic. A person in a car behind him, for an unknown reason, is not paying attention and drives over him. The retired person has his pelvic bone crushed and suffers several other injures. He is taken to the hospital, undergoes multiple surgeries and is in the hospital for a month. From the hospital he is transferred to a nursing home where they take care of him and perform physical therapy on him. After a year in the nursing home, interrupted by a few more surgeries, he is released to return home. He never fully recovers and uses a cane to walk around. His economic damages are the medical bills from all the medical providers including the ambulance, hospital, nursing home, and the doctors. The bills total near a million dollars. He was retired so there are no lost wages. Everything he has experienced, the pain and suffering, the lost time, the permanent impairments and loss of ability to live a normal active life, the loss of the ability to enjoy the golden years of retirement are taken away from him and these damages are capped at $350,000.00. The insurance company pays the medical bills and then gives a check to the victim for $350,000.00. Although $350,000 is not insignificant, it does not seem a fair trade for “all detriment proximately caused thereby.”
Another example of how the damage caps work in Oklahoma can be read in this news story. The jury is not told about the $350,000 limitation in their award for non-economic damages. They think they are fairly compensating the victim, instead the fair compensation is secretly being capped.