Galen T. Shimoda and Justin P. Rodriguez
The legal system is meant to compensate people who have been wronged in one way or another to make them whole again. While the categories of items that may be recoverable can vary, a basic premise remains true: a certain dollar value will be assigned to your injury, whether the injury is discrimination, harassment, retaliation, etc. This is just as true in personal injury cases. Yes, there can be non-monetary recoveries in some instances like an injunction (i.e. a court order telling the other party that they have to do, or refrain from doing, something), but that is typically the exception rather than the rule.
The amount that a jury or a judge may award you is not something that is guaranteed. You must be able to prove the extent of your loss and show that you are entitled to more in order to be granted a higher monetary award. For ease of reference, we will distinguish two broad categories of damages and the types of items that may fall into each: lost wages and emotional distress.
Lost wages will cover things like your lost annual income, insurance benefits (e.g. medical, dental, vision, short term disability, long term disability, accidental death, and life insurance, etc.), health savings accounts, lost retirement (e.g. 401K, pension, employer match to employee retirement contributions, etc.), vacation, and lost earning potential over time to name a few. Proving these things will often simply focus on going through your paystubs, the employer’s employee handbook, COBRA replacement benefits, and any summary plan descriptions of said benefits.
It is important to retain all documents and information relating to these items in order for an expert to analyze them and derive a comprehensive present value for the total loss of these items. The law imposes a duty on you to take reasonable steps to minimize your losses. A focus here will be on how aggressive you were in trying to find another job, seeking the appropriate medical treatment, following your doctor’s treatment plans, and avoiding any other activity that might further, rather than prevent, the losses you have suffered.
Emotional distress is a much more complicated category of damages to prove because the affects can be significantly different between two people. One has to demonstrate to either the judge or jury that, on a common sense level, they have been mentally traumatized to a degree that merits a large award for the pain and suffering they experienced as a result of the loss. This will often go hand-in-hand with the items of lost wages described above. For example, a severe loss of income associated with not being able to work can lead to being unable to buy your child birthday or Christmas presents. It can mean that you are unable to afford medical care for yourself or a family member who is suffering from an extreme illness and having to watch them suffer rather than get them the medical care they need. It can also mean that you have to delay your retirement by a substantial amount of time. Bankruptcy, repossessions of your vehicle, and other similar experiences will all be relevant to showing the extent of the emotional toll that the wrong has had on you. Other items that can objectively demonstrate the level of distress can include being prescribed with anti-depressant medications. Another thing to consider when making allegations of emotional distress is that this will often allow the opposing party and their attorneys to review your past mental health medical history to the extent it is directly related to your claims of emotional distress.
If you have potential employment law or personal injury claims that you wish to be evaluated, please contact our office.