Pain & Suffering

What is 'Pain and Suffering' in a Personal Injury Case?

The term “pain and suffering” is familiar to many, yet its significance as a fundamental element in numerous personal injury cases might not be fully understood. From a legal standpoint, pain and suffering hold substantial importance, but how exactly is it quantified for the purposes of an insurance claim or lawsuit related to injuries?

What is "Pain and Suffering"?

There are two primary categories of pain and suffering: physical pain and suffering and mental pain and suffering.

Physical pain and suffering: This encompasses the actual physical pain stemming from the plaintiff’s bodily injuries. It encompasses not only the pain and discomfort experienced by the claimant up to the present time but also takes into account the anticipated negative impacts that the individual is likely to endure in the future due to the defendant’s negligent actions.

Mental pain and suffering: This arises from the claimant’s physical injuries but is more of a consequence of those bodily injuries. Mental pain and suffering involves emotions such as mental distress, emotional agony, the loss of the ability to enjoy life, fear, anger, humiliation, anxiety, and shock. Essentially, mental pain and suffering encompasses any adverse emotional state experienced by an accident victim as a result of enduring the physical pain and trauma caused by the accident.

Notable examples of severe mental pain and suffering include emotions like anger, depression, loss of appetite, decreased energy, sexual dysfunction, mood swings, and sleep disturbances. In more extreme cases, mental pain and suffering may even manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Both mental pain and suffering and physical pain and suffering encompass not only the effects endured by the victim thus far but also the emotional and physical pain that the individual is likely to experience in the future.

Examples of Pain and Suffering

Let’s examine a couple of instances illustrating how individuals involved in car accidents may encounter pain and suffering.

To start, let’s consider a more severe scenario. Imagine a person is in a car accident that leads to multiple fractures and a severe concussion. This incident is undoubtedly substantial. Due to these injuries, the affected party develops feelings of depression and anger, faces sleep difficulties, and undergoes significant loss of appetite. As a result, the individual seeks help from a psychologist and therapist. All these challenges directly stem from the accident, warranting compensation for mental pain and suffering linked to the incident.

At times, mental pain and suffering can become so overwhelming that it impedes a victim’s ability to resume work, even after the physical injuries have healed. For instance, in this particular situation, the person’s depression arising from the accident might persist long after the fractures and concussion have mended. In such a scenario, the individual can still claim damages related to mental pain and suffering, such as lost income.

Now, let’s explore a less severe illustration of mental pain and suffering. Suppose someone is in a car accident resulting in back strain. Due to the back strain, the individual can’t engage in exercise for a few weeks, causing them to miss out on a marathon they had diligently trained for over months. This setback leaves the person feeling angry, frustrated, dissatisfied, and perhaps even slightly depressed. Although this claimant doesn’t require mental health support, these effects, though less significant, still qualify as mental pain and suffering.

How to Calculate Pain And Suffering

Judges rarely provide juries with detailed directives on assessing the value of pain and suffering in a personal injury lawsuit. There are no predefined charts for juries to consult in order to determine the appropriate compensation amount. In many states, judges simply advise jurors to rely on their own judgment, personal experiences, and understanding to establish a reasonable and justifiable figure for compensating the plaintiff’s pain and suffering.

You might have come across the concept of a “multiplier” used in personal injury cases, where the value of pain and suffering is calculated as a multiple of the injured individual’s total medical expenses and lost earnings (known as “special damages”).

The “multiplier” is often estimated to fall within the range of 1.5 to 4, implying that pain and suffering could be worth 1.5 to 4 times the value of the claimant’s special damages. However, the “multiplier” approach is a very approximate estimate and isn’t applicable to all personal injury cases. It tends to be more relevant for minor injuries where total damages are under $50,000. Even in such cases, using the “multiplier” cautiously is advised.

Numerous other factors influence the valuation of the pain and suffering aspect in a personal injury case. These factors encompass:

  • The plaintiff’s credibility and potential as a witness
  • The likability of the plaintiff
  • Consistency in the plaintiff’s accounts of injuries during testimony
  • The presence of any exaggeration in the plaintiff’s claims of pain and suffering
  • Support from the plaintiff’s medical practitioners for their pain and suffering assertions
  • The jury’s perception of whether the plaintiff has lied about anything, even minor matters (generally, a plaintiff’s credibility diminishes if they are found to have lied)
  • The coherence of the plaintiff’s diagnosis, injuries, and claims as understood by the jury
  • Whether the plaintiff has a criminal record
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