What are “personal injuries”?

David v. Sirius Computer Solutions, Inc., No. 14-1125 (10th Cir. Mar. 10, 2015).

In the United States, prevailing plaintiffs are often allowed to recover prejudgment interest—interest calculated on a judgment from the time that the plaintiff was injured or filed suit until the day that final judgment was entered. The point of prejudgment interest is to make sure the injured plaintiff is fully compensated—and to prevent the defendant from being unjustly enriched. If you take $1,000 away from me and return it to me five years later, I’ve actually lost money, because I’ve lost the opportunity to put the $1,000 to work for me. Meanwhile, you’ve had five years to put the $1,000 to work for you

That is by way of prelude to this case, which centers on a Colorado law awarding prejudgment interest to plaintiffs “in all actions brought to recover damages for personal injuries.” The question in this case is what “personal injuries” means. 

The relevant facts of the case are straightforward. Sirius Computer Solutions hired Diane David to sell computer equipment, promising her that she could continue to serve her existing customers. After hiring her, though, Sirius reneged on its promise. David sued Sirius for negligent misrepresentation and a jury awarded her about $230,000. 

Now, is David entitled to prejudgment interest on that amount? That depends on whether hers was an action “to recover damages for personal injuries.” Sirius argues that David was seeking to recover damages for economic injuries, and economic injuries are not personal injuries. The Tenth Circuit, speaking through the admirably clear and succinct Judge Gorsuch, disagrees with Sirius and holds that David’s was an action for “personal injuries” under Colorado law. The statute, the court reasons, makes no distinction between economic and noneconomic injuries. It simply speaks of “personal injuries”—that is, injuries to a person’s rights rather than to her property. That fits David’s case. The case is remanded for the district court to award her prejudgment interest.