It has long been held that an award of damages for loss or impairment of future earning capacity should be reduced to its present value. There has, however, been a split of authority as to whether damages for future pain and suffering should also be discounted to present value. In Nebraska, it has been recognized that although there is no mathematical formula for translating pain and suffering into terms of dollars and cents, damages are nonetheless allowable. However, there has been considerable controversy in Nebraska as to whether these damages should be discounted to present value. Originally, cases dealing with the problem in Nebraska held that there should be no present value reduction for such damages. However, in Abbott v. Northwestem Bell Telephone Co. the Nebraska Supreme Court made it quite clear that future pain and suffering damages will now, like damages for loss or impairment of future earning capacity, be reduced to their present cash value. In so holding, Nebraska joins a small minority of states which require the present value reduction for future pain and suffering damages. The decision seems to indicate a fear on the court's part that unless the discount is made, the defendant is unduly and improperly penalized. This appears to be based on the belief that the defendant is being required to pay a sum worth more today than the amount computed by the jury as necessary to fully compensate the plaintiff as the loss occurs in the future. For this reason, it is thought that the plaintiff is being overcompensated. This reasoning raises an interesting question. If the court is concerned with awarding the most precise and accurate judgment possible for pain and suffering damages, should it not require the jury to consider future inflation and prejudgment interest along with the earning power of money? If the court's goal is to precisely and accurately award the plaintiff no more and certainly no less than that to which the plaintiff is rightfully entitled, it would seem only logical that the jury be so instructed. It would clearly be more equitable if the factors of inflation and prejudgment interest were given as much weight and consideration as the earning power of money when pain and suffering damages are awarded. The purpose of this Note is to examine the conflict as to whether future pain and suffering damages should be reduced to present cash value. Additionally, it explores the possibility of having Nebraska courts instruct their juries to give consideration not only to the earning power of money but also the equally important factors of future inflation and prejudgment interest when awarding pain and suffering damages.
John W. Pharris,
Pain and Suffering Damages: A Move toward More Precision and Accuracy: Abbott v. Northwestern Bell Telephone Co., 197 Neb. 11, 246 N.W.2d 647 (1976),
56 Neb. L. Rev. 910
Available at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol56/iss4/8