Lawyer and law firm advertisements often tout the large verdicts and settlements they have obtained for their clients in personal injury cases. While out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages are often components of these verdicts and settlements, the largest single component of the sum awarded to an injured party is typically for "pain and suffering." In this article, we will explore the meaning of "pain and suffering" in the context of a personal injury claim and discuss how juries translate these types of damages into a monetary award.
What is "Pain and Suffering"?
Pain and suffering can be physical, mental or both. Physical pain and suffering consists of the pain, aching, soreness, tenderness, stiffness, numbness, tingling and other adverse physical consequences that result from the injuries sustained in the accident that gave rise to the claim. (More: Common Kinds of Personal Injury Claims.)
Physical pain and suffering can also include the adverse physical effects and limitations caused by the claimant's treatment for his or her injuries. For example, a claimant who loses a limb in a car accident is entitled to compensation for the pain and suffering caused by the accident itself as well as the pain and suffering that results from the surgical amputation of the limb and the wearing of a prosthetic limb.
Mental pain and suffering also stems from the injuries sustained in the accident, and includes emotional distress, mental anguish, anxiety, depression, stress, anger, diminished enjoyment of everyday life activities, and other similar negative effects on the claimant's mental well-being. This type of pain and suffering can also include the adverse mental effects caused by medical treatment for the physical injuries. For example, a claimant who needs to take prescription medication for physical injuries can recover pain and suffering damages for the depression that is a side effect of the medication.
When it comes to both physical and mental pain and suffering, compensation is recoverable for:
- what the claimant has suffered in the past
- what she is currently suffering, and
- what she can reasonably expect to suffer in the future.
Because the concepts of "pain" and "suffering" are often quite subjective, claims for these kinds of damages benefit greatly from the expert opinion and testimony of medical and mental health professionals. Skilled expert witnesses are able to explain to insurance companies and juries the nature, extent and severity of a party's pain and suffering in ways that facilitate the process of placing a monetary value on these damages.
How is Pain and Suffering Calculated?
Once the insurance company or jury fully understands the manner in which the claimant's physical and mental pain and suffering has impacted his or her life, it is then up to the claimant's lawyer to suggest how to translate these injuries into a money damages award.
There are no hard and fast rules as to how this calculation can or should be done, and differences in pain and suffering awards for similar accident-related injuries are principally a function of the relative persuasive skills of the attorneys involved. (More: Does Having a Personal Injury Lawyer Mean a Better Outcome?)
Sometimes attorneys use the claimant's economic damages (i.e., out-of-pocket expenses, medical bills, wage loss) as a benchmark for calculating pain and suffering damages, and suggest to the insurer or the jury that pain and suffering damages should be calculated by applying a multiplier to the economic damages -- such as 2 to 1 or 3 to 1.
So, if the economic damages are $50,000 in a personal injury trial, the attorney may urge the jury to award $100,000 or $150,000 as pain and suffering damages. In other cases, the attorney may suggest that the jury determine the sum that would compensate the claimant for his pain and suffering on a daily basis, and then ask the jury to multiply that sum by the number of past and future days the claimant can be expected to suffer these damages. As an example, it may be suggested that $100 per day would reasonably compensate the claimant for his pain and suffering and that if the total time period of these damages is deemed to be three years, an award of $109,500 (1,095 days X $100/day) would be warranted.
As you can see, determining the value of pain and suffering damages in a personal injury case is more art than science. However, with the assistance of skilled experts and an attorney who is capable of persuasively translating these damages into dollars and cents, the amount awarded can be maximized. Learn more about Damages in a Personal Injury Case.