“Pecuniary” is an old-fashioned word for “monetary.” Attorneys use “pecuniary loss” to refer to a loss of money or value that someone suffered because of a legal wrong. This includes expenses that they had to pay, property they had to pay to replace, or opportunities for payment that they lost.
Personal injury claims usually involve several kinds of pecuniary loss. These vary between claims; clearly, someone who slipped and fell will not have all of the same types of pecuniary loss as someone who had a car accident. However, most personal injury claims involve one or all of the following three losses:
- Medical expenses
These include not only immediate care, such as an ambulance or an emergency room visit after the incident, but the ongoing examinations, tests, and treatments for the injuries and their aftermath. Some of these may not be apparent right away. For example, someone who received a hairline fracture may suffer from pain and disabilities that only appear some time afterward. Furthermore, even if the incident worsened a plaintiff’s previous medical problems or resulted in more severe injuries than it might have for a healthier person, that is also the defendant’s responsibility, and the plaintiff can claim those expenses as well.
- Property damages
Anything that was destroyed or lost value results in a pecuniary loss. Property damage may be involved in any personal injury claim, so long as it resulted from the defendant’s negligent or reckless action. People often lose valuable property in a motor vehicle accident—computers, work tools, and other personal items that mean as much or more than the car. In a serious accident, someone who has to go to the emergency room may also lose clothing or jewelry that had to be cut away or discarded before treatment. An attorney can help you examine and claim all your appropriate losses after the confusion of an accident or injury.
- Lost wages or earning opportunities
Attorneys compute these based on the type of work you did and your rate of payment. The calculation is fairly straightforward if you worked at a job with an hourly or daily pay rate—it is based on the time you missed or can reasonably expect to miss. For salaried workers, an attorney would calculate lost wages by dividing their salary by the number of hours they work in a year, then computing the total time lost, together with any vacation or PTO lost to the accident. For a self-employed person, they would use pay documentation and tax returns, as well as evidence of lost work opportunities, to create a reasonable approximation of what the plaintiff might have earned.
If you have been permanently disabled or otherwise injured so badly that you cannot return to your line of work, your future earnings also constitute a pecuniary loss. In a wrongful death suit, the estate of the deceased can sometimes make this claim for the loss of future earnings on behalf of the spouse and children. The spouse lost the services of their partner, and the children lost the support of a parent.
To calculate these damages, the attorney will consider the years a person might have worked if the incident had not occurred. For example, if someone is disabled at age 30, that person might have worked 35 more years before retiring at age 65. During that 25 years, they would have done some or all of the following:
- Collected a salary
- Grown a business
- Earned benefits (vacation time, 401(k) accounts, etc.)
- Performed duties in the household (cooking, cleaning, etc.)
These costs must be estimated and analyzed in order to create a reasonable total for a lifetime of disability. Each person’s earning capacity differs by age, career, skill level, place of residence, and other factors.
In the case of a wrongful death lawsuit, the estate can also claim funeral expenses and others related to the untimely death of the injury victim.
What Is Not a Pecuniary Loss?
Your pecuniary losses add up to what are called economic damages or general damages—a claim for concrete losses. But in a personal injury claim, you are generally also entitled to recover to some degree for losses that have no literal monetary cost. These are called noneconomic damages or special damages. Under South Carolina law, these include:
- Pain and suffering
- Injury to reputation or humiliation
- Loss of society or companionship
- Physical impairment or disfigurement
- Loss of consortium (the company of a spouse)
See S.C. Code § 15-32-210.
To arrive at a figure for noneconomic damages, the attorney considers the total of the economic damages and multiplies them, either in a lump sum or per diem, to arrive at a total that reflects the intangible difficulties suffered due to the defendant’s wrongful act.
If you had any degree of fault in the incident, that will reduce the total amount of damages you can receive. Under South Carolina law, a plaintiff who is less than 51% at fault for an injury can still claim damages, minus their own percentage of fault. In theory, it is the court’s job to determine the percentage of fault, but in practice, insurance adjusters review the accident scene and the evidence, then assign some percentage of fault to you—usually in a way that is most favorable to their own interests.
It takes experience and local know-how to handle insurance companies and defense counsel. Our South Carolina personal injury attorneys do that every day. If you are dealing with an insurance company, or you think you might have a claim for damages, you don’t have to handle your case alone. Call Cavanaugh & Thickens, LLC today at (803) 888-2200 to schedule a free consultation in Columbia or North Charleston.