Citation. McDougald v. Garber, 73 N.Y.2d 246, 536 N.E.2d 372, 538 N.Y.S.2d 937, 1989)
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Brief Fact Summary.
McDougald (Plaintiff) suffered severe brain damage and was left comatose as a result of Defendants’ negligence in a medical operation. Plaintiff sued Defendants for malpractice and received a jury award of $9,650,102.00. Defendants appeal the amount of the damage award. Liability is not at issue.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Awareness of one’s condition is a prerequisite for recovery of damages for loss of enjoyment of life and these damages are to be considered as part of the damages for pain and suffering.
Plaintiff underwent a Caesarian section and tubal ligation. She was thirty-years old at the time of this procedure. Garber (Defendant) performed the surgery. Armengol (Defendant) and Kulkarni (Defendant) provided anesthesia. During the surgery, Plaintiff suffered oxygen deprivation, resulting in severe brain damage, which left her in a permanent comatose condition. In an award for malpractice, the jury awarded Plaintiff $9,650,102.00. This included $1 million for conscious pain and suffering and a separate award of $3.5 million for loss of the pleasures and pursuits of life. The balances of the damages were for pecuniary damages, lost earnings and the cost of custodial and nursing care. Plaintiff’s husband was awarded $1.5 million for the loss of his wife’s services. The Trial Judge reduced the total award to $4,796,728.00 by striking the entire award for future nursing care and by reducing the separate awards for conscious pain and suffering and loss of the pleasures and purs
uits of life to a single award of $2,000,000.00. The husband’s award was left in tact. The Appellate Division affirmed. Defendants appealed the amount of the damage award. Defendant’s liability is unchallenged.
Is awareness of one’s condition relevant to a jury’s consideration of damages to award a victim for loss of enjoyment of life, and should these damages be considered as part of damages for pain and suffering?
Yes. Judgment for Defendants.
* Damages are awarded to compensate the victim, not to punish the wrongdoer. The goal is to restore the injured party, as much as possible, to the position that would have been occupied had the wrong not occurred. Punitive damages are not allowed unless the guilty party strayed beyond mere negligence.
* Damages for nonpecuniary losses are among those that can be awarded as compensation to the victim. This aspect of damages, however, stands on less certain ground than does an award for pecuniary damages. Nonpecuniary losses are those damages awarded to compensate an injured person for the physical and emotional consequences of the injury, such as pain and suffering and the loss of the ability to engage in certain activities. Pecuniary damages compensate the victim for the economic consequences of the injury, such as medical expenses, lost earnings and the cost of custodial care.
* Cognitive awareness is a prerequisite to recovery for loss of enjoyment of life. In this case, an award of money damages for loss of enjoyment of life to Plaintiff has no meaning or utility to her. An award for the loss of enjoyment of life cannot provide her with any consolation or ease any burden resting on her. She cannot spend it upon necessities or pleasures. She cannot experience the pleasure of giving it away.
* The jury may consider the effect of the injuries to Plaintiff’s capacity to lead a normal life. In an award for pain and suffering, suffering need not be limited – it can easily encompass the frustration and anguish caused by the inability to participate in activities that once brought pleasure. An award for loss of the enjoyment of life, apart from pain and suffering, will not yield a more accurate evaluation of the compensation due to Plaintiff. The total award would increase but it would not be more accurate. A better approach is to award Plaintiff damages for pain and suffering, which would encompass an award for loss of the enjoyment of life.
* A new trial should be ordered on the issue of nonpecuniary damages to be awarded.
(Justice Titone) The loss of enjoyment of life is an objective damage item, conceptually distinct from conscious pain and suffering.
There are two intertwined holdings in this case. The first is that cognitive awareness is a prerequisite to recovery for loss of enjoyment of life. The second holding is that if recovery of loss of enjoyment is appropriate, it is included in the award for pain and suffering. Most jurisdictions seem to favor the majority position based on the probability that separating loss of enjoyment of life from pain and suffering would lead to a duplication of damages.