Compensation awarded as damages for loss not suitable for precise assessment in financial terms (i.e. future economic loss), and loss not of a monetary nature (i.e. pain and suffering). General damages are one of six recognised heads of damages, the others being pecuniary loss, income loss, aggravated damages, exemplary damages, and nominal damages.
General damages (also referred to as non-economic loss) are defined at section 3 of the Civil Liability Act.
“non-economic loss” means any one or more of the following:
(a) pain and suffering
(b) loss of amenities of life
(c) loss of expectation of life
General damages may be applied and determined on the basis of non-pecuniary loss already suffered, and non-pecuniary loss projected to be suffered on an ongoing basis.
General damages are usually only available in cases involving an individual plaintiff who has suffered personal harm, i.e. actions in tort.
Section 16 of the Civil Liability Act sets out a table for assessing general damages.
“The following are the steps required in the assessment of non-economic loss in accordance with this section:
Step 1: Determine the severity of the claimant’s non-economic loss as a proportion of a most extreme case. The proportion should be expressed as a percentage.
Step 2: Confirm the maximum amount that may be awarded under this section for non-economic loss in a most extreme case. This amount is indexed each year under section 17.
Step 3: Use the Table to determine the percentage of the maximum amount payable in respect of the claim. The amount payable under this section for non-economic loss is then determined by multiplying the maximum amount that may be awarded in a most extreme case by the percentage set out in the Table.
Where the proportion of a most extreme case is greater than 33%, the amount payable will be the same proportion of the maximum amount.”