Lately, Lithuanian courts have been blamed in the media for awarding very small amounts of compensation for non-pecuniary damages.
In this respect, as an expert in this field, I would like to defend the Lithuanian court system and explain that in the case-law of all European countries relating to compensation of non-pecuniary damages in cases of personal injury and loss of life, one can observe a trend which at first glance reminds of a paradox. Courts usually award very small, symbolic amounts of compensation for non-pecuniary damages in favour of close family members of the injured or deceased person, or do not satisfy their claims at all. When looking at such position of courts, one might gain the impression that human life as an absolute and supreme value is somewhat depreciated.
However, it is noteworthy that such case-law in cases of compensation of non-pecuniary damages is not accidental and does not imply that no proper importance is attached to human life. These amounts of compensation awarded for losses of a non-pecuniary nature have a conceptual justification because it is considered that in the case of loss of life there is no directly injured person remaining and claims are filed only by close family members of the deceased. In such case it is deemed that it is not the right of close family members to health or life that is violated but rather their right to social relationships as one of the aspects of the right to private life. Meanwhile, in the case of injury, an attempt is made on one’s life, an absolute value that needs to be cherished most. As it is not sought to punish a person who has caused damage in civil cases of compensation of damages but rather only to compensate for the damage caused to the injured, it is natural that the amounts of compensation for damage in the cases of personal injury are higher than in the case of loss of life.
For a long time, the case-law of Lithuanian courts has been criticised by experts for the opposite trend, i. e. that they award inadequate amounts to close family members of the deceased in the case of loss of life. Today, the situation has changed, and Lithuania is moving closer to the case-law existing in Western European countries. On the other hand, now we are still among the leaders in terms of awarded amounts of compensation of non-pecuniary damages in cases of fatal injuries.
Thus, the case-law of courts where a higher compensation is awarded for a major injury exceeds the amount of compensation awarded in the case of loss of life should not be interpreted as an inadequate appreciation of human life because the losses of a non-pecuniary nature incurred by the person requesting a respective compensation, their scope and intensity become the decisive factor in determining the amount of non-pecuniary damages.
The commentary served as reference material for the article ‘What gives a feeling of satisfaction helping to forget the lived experiences’ [“Kas suteikia satisfakciją, padedančią pamiršti patirtus išgyvenimus”] published in the newsletter, issue No. 3(23), 2016.