Compensatory damages compensate a plaintiff for past and anticipated future losses in a Nevada personal injury case. Compensatory damages consist of:
- Economic and pecuniary damage (such as "lost wages"), and
- "Non-economic" damages (such as pain and suffering).
Non-economic damages are those which don't necessarily involve out-of-pocket expenses. They include pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of life enjoyment and similar "general" losses.1
Compensatory damages contrast with punitive damages, which are meant not to compensate a Nevada plaintiff's losses, but to punish wrongdoers who engage in particularly blameworthy actions.
Is there a cap on compensatory damages in Nevada?
In most cases, there is no limit on the amount you can recover as compensatory damages in Nevada. Compensatory damages can be awarded in whatever amount the jury (or, in a “bench” trial, the judge) deems fair and reasonable.
An exception is non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering) in a medical malpractice case. These are capped at $350,000, regardless of the economic damages or the extent of pain and suffering.2
Example one: Burt, a car salesman, suffers a spinal injury in a slip-and-fall accident at a Las Vegas resort hotel. The accident occurred due to an employee's negligence in leaving a beverage spill untended. Burt makes a claim against the casino for compensatory damages in the amount of $34,000 for:
- Payment for medical bills totaling $20,000, which include:
- Emergency room visit, x-rays and MRI at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center
- Ambulance to the emergency room;
- Prescriptions medications; and
- Follow-up medical care by Burt's personal physician.
- One week of lost wages totaling $6,000 in salary and another $3,000 in lost sales commissions; and
- Pain and suffering in the amount of $5,000.
Example two: Julie, a 25-year-old law student, is injured when she slips and hits her head on the edge of a coffee table. She goes to an urgent care center to have her injuries looked at. The doctor sends her home with pain medication and instructions to ice her head. However, it turns out that the doctor has missed internal bleeding, which would have been caught had he run the proper tests. As a result of the doctor's malpractice, Julie suffers a permanent brain injury.
Julie sues the doctor and urgent care center for medical malpractice. A jury awards her $15,000,000 in economic damages, most of which is for lost earning capacity and long-term care.
However, even though Julie's economic damages are very large and she has experienced incredible suffering, because hers is a medical malpractice case she is entitled to only $350,000 in non-economic damages. Her total compensatory damage award is $15,350,000. Had she been injured through any other type of negligence her award for non-economic damages would not have been capped. In real life, Julie's lawyer would most likely look to see if there is any other theory under which to bring a suit -- for instance, a lawsuit under Nevada's premises liability laws for Julie's fall.
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- NRS 41A.011.
- NRS 41A.035.
- NRS 42.005.