General Damages in Detail

by Daniel Menell

In any claim for compensation following an accident leading to personal injury, an injured person will at some point want to know how much money they will be entitled to. General damages is the term used to describe compensation for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, rather than financial loss. But what exactly does this element of a personal injury claim encompass, and how is it calculated?

It is possible most of the time to accurately calculate a claimantís financial losses arising as a result of an accident. A monetary award can not, in reality, fully compensate an injured person. Money will not buy back their former good health. Thus this aspect of the claim is not capable of being assessed by a process of calculation. Although the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (which compensates victims of violent crime when they donít find a way to wriggle out of writing a cheque) work to a strict tariff, the reality is that this method is far from ideal. No two people are ever affected in exactly the same way by similar injuries. Indeed, no two injures are identical. People have different reactions to similar injuries, whether physical or psychological. They have a different healing process, a different reaction to and threshold to pain. One may recover more quickly than the other. One may have better treatment than the other. There are as many different reactions as there are people on this earth.

It must also be recognised however that there should be some sort of consistency in awards in respect of similar injuries, whilst at the same time offering a court some discretion to take account of these differences. There are no laws which govern or limit compensation, or which give guidance or assistance to the calculation of general damages. Instead, there is a body of previously decided cases which act as a fluid, if very slow moving guide as to what a particular injury might be worth. The Judicial Studies Board Guidelines are contained in a publication of some 60 pages and give an approximation of the worth of various types of injury based on these previously decided cases. It could crudely be viewed as a price list of the various parts of the human anatomy. Lawyers, judges and insurers place a good deal of reliance on this publication which acts as a realistic starting point from which to base an opinion on the likely worth of an injury. It is not law however. A judge could stray outside these guidelines should there be sufficiently compelling reasons to do so. The assessment of general damages can be far from straightforward, and although research will take the inexperienced lawyer so far, there is no substitute for research combined with a healthy dose of gut feeling from an experienced lawyer.

Pain and suffering normally makes up the bulk of a claim for general damages. In broad terms, the more serious the injury, the more valuable it will be.

The term loss of amenity refers to anything accident related which reduces oneís enjoyment of life. A simple example would be the inability, due to the injury, to partake in sport. The loss of amenity aspect of such a claim would be worth more for the claimant to whom sport was an integral part of their lives, compared to someone altogether more sedentary. Strictly speaking, "loss of amenity" in fact comprises a separate "head of claim", although in reality, itís computation is usually included within "general damages" as a whole. I am surprised at the number of lawyers and insurers I speak to, who do not even realise that loss of amenity is technically a separate head of claim and can, on occasion be used as a tool to increase the award. An example of a more serious, and therefore valuable claim for loss of amenity might be an injury whereby a claimantís sex life is permanently curtailed by virtue of ether a physical or psychological injury. Clearly, the loss of amenity would be worth considerably more in the case of a young adult compared to someone of rather more mature years.

There are a number of factors which might cause very similar injuries to be worth different sums of money to different claimants. Examples include:-

  • Age: A younger claimant will (at least statistically) be left to live with their injuries for longer
  • Gender: Injuries involving scarring or other disfigurement will tend to attract a higher award in females.
  • Dominance: Injuries to a dominant limb will be worth more, as they cause greater inconvenience, sometimes very significantly so.
  • Pre-Accident History: A previously sedate claimant will not be as affected by longer term symptoms than someone who led a very active lifestyle.
  • Reaction: Peoples psychological reaction to an accident and their resulting physical injury can be very varied, and can drastically affect the level of award.

There is another award which might on occasion be possible as well, and that is known as "Loss of Congenial Employment". Such claims may be appropriate where by virtue of an injury one is prevented from undertaking oneís job, whether permanently or temporarily. Clearly, there would need to be good evidence that it was a job the claimant enjoyed very much. Although claims under this head have tended to be most commonly made for members of public services such as police, nursing staff or fire fighters, there is no reason at all that a claim can not be advanced for others. Whilst awards under this head rarely exceed a few thousand pounds, there are examples of awards several times that amount for the loss of a career as a dancer or musician. This is therefore something worth considering if an injury has caused you to have to change from a job you loved, so do push your lawyer on this point if appropriate to do so.

So, just how much are injuries worth in the UK? To give you more of a flavour of typical awards for some of the more common injuries, as well as illustrative examples of some more serious injuries, consider these guides. And remember, these are guides only!

  • Minor head injury with a full recovery within a few weeks £1,300
  • Minor neck injury with recovery at 1 year or so £2,500
  • Minor neck injury with recovery at 2 years or so £4,500
  • Moderate neck injury resulting in a serious ongoing limitation of movement or pain, possibly with a need for further treatment or ongoing vulnerability to further trauma or damage. Around £8,000 - £15,000
  • Neck fractures or dislocations leading to spinal fusion £14,000- £19,000
  • Back injuries such as strains, prolapses or soft tissue injuries with a significant recovery within 2 years. Up to £4,500
  • Back injuries such as strains, prolapses or soft tissue injuries with a significant recovery within 5 years. £4,500 - £7,500
  • Frozen shoulder with symptoms for about 2 years. £4,500 - £7,500
  • Minor shoulder injury with recovery within a year. Up to £2,500
  • Fractured shoulder with good recovery. £3,000- £4,000
  • Simple fracture to wrist with a full recovery within a few months £2,500
  • Wrist injury with some degree of persisting and permanent pain and stiffness. £7,000- £14,000
  • Fractured finger with swift recovery. £1,800 (more for index finger or thumb)
  • Complete loss of little finger £5,000 - £8,000
  • Complete loss of thumb. £20,000 - £32,000
  • Simple undisplaced nasal fracture. Up to £1,400
  • Below elbow amputation of arm £55,000 - £65,000
  • Hernia, caused for example by heavy lifting. About £4,500
  • Loss of taste and smell. About £22,500
  • Mild tinnitus with some hearing loss. £8,000
  • Total deafness. £52,000 - £63,000
  • Loss of sight in one eye. About £30,000
  • Total loss of sight. About £155,000
  • Minor Post Traumatic Stress Disorder £2,300 - £4,800
  • Severely disabling psychiatric damage. £32,000 - £67,000

Often, an accident can lead to multiple injuries but that doesnít mean that the total award for general damages will comprise the sum of what those injuries would have been worth individually. For example, it might make little difference, in terms of their suffering and inconvenience, that someone with a fractured ankle also had a fractured toe.

The above figures are merely guidelines to give the reader some insight as to the level of damages in the UK. Please do not take these figures as accurate advice as to what your injuries may be worth. If plucking a figure from the JSB guidelines were as complex as quantification gets, there would be little if any dispute between parties when trying to negotiate. The concept of quantification should be seen as a fluid one.

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