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Exercise 11

This exercise is about damages.

Charlie gets drunk celebrating his release from jail. He gets a handgun and starts shooting through windows as he weaves down the road. One of the bullets hits Fran in the shoulder. She testifies in court that this caused a painful injury, $500 in emergency room bills and a week’s lost wages. Another bullet hits the pipe in Harvey’s kitchen, necessitating $300 in plumbing work.

How much can each plaintiff be awarded in a tort action against Charlie?

A. Nothing, because Charlie is going straight back to jail and is obviously broke.
Sorry, but that's not the correct answer. Please select another.
B. Harvey can recover his $300 and Fran her medical bills and lost wages. Fran cannot recover for the injury to her shoulder because she can’t put a money value on it.
Sorry, but that's not the correct answer. Please select another.
C. Harvey can recover his $300 and Fran her medical bills and lost wages. Fran also can recover a reasonable sum for her pain and suffering, based on her testimony as to how painful her shoulder injury was.

C is correct. Charlie may be broke, but that doesn’t prevent the judge from awarding damages to Charlie’s victims. He may own some property the plaintiffs can execute against to pay their judgments, or they may be able to attach his wages when he gets out of jail.

Harvey can recover for his damaged pipe and Fran can recover for her medical bills and lost wages by providing testimony and documentary evidence (e.g., medical and plumbing bills, cancelled checks). Fran can also recover for her pain and suffering by describing in her testimony the pain she experienced, how it limited her enjoyment of the normal functions of life, and how long the pain lasted, for example. While the value of pain and suffering can’t be calculated as exactly as the costs of medical treatment or plumbing repairs, the judge or jury can still determine how much money will compensate the victim for the pain she has described.