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In a legal setting, pain and suffering is a key component of a personal injury case, referring to the physical and emotional stress that results from an injury, fall, defective product, accident, or instance of medical malpractice. There are generally two types of pain and suffering: physical pain and suffering and mental pain and suffering.
Physical pain and suffering refers to the pain resulting from the claimant’s actual injuries. It does not just include the actual discomfort and pain endured due to his or her physical injuries, but also the effects that he or she is likely to sustain in the future because of the defendant’s negligent actions.
Mental pain and suffering, on the other hand, results from the claimant’s bodily injuries – but is more of a by-product of those physical injuries. It is typically a negative emotion suffered by a victim as a result of having to endure the trauma and physical pain of an accident. Like physical pain and suffering, mental pain and suffering also includes effects that the victim will likely have to endure in the future.
Common damages classified under pain and suffering include depression, aches, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, chronic pain, short-term and long-term limitations on activity, potential shortening of life, scarring, embarrassment, humiliation, fear, and anger.
Filing a Claim
When filing a claim or lawsuit as a result of an injury, it is common for the claimant to seek compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. Pain and suffering is considered to be part of “general damages” or is an element of “compensatory non-economic damages.”
Although pain and suffering damages may potentially be awarded for mental anguish, they are generally reserved for pain caused by a physical injury. If the victim only suffers emotional damages, then pain and suffering damages may not be awarded unless the defendant’s conduct was outrageous or extreme.
Valuing Pain and Suffering
In any injury case, putting a value on pain and suffering is one of the most difficult tasks a jury must do. There is no chart or scientific formula that attorneys, juries, and insurance companies can refer to when deciding how much to award.
The settlement amount a person receives for his or her pain and suffering is not fixed, as it is dependent on numerous factors. Such factors include the severity of the injury, the medical treatment received, the recovery time needed, and potential long-term consequences of the injury.
In pain and suffering claims, a claimant may also cite psychological and emotional trauma apart from physical pain. A large scar, for instance, may cause an individual to constantly feel insecure and embarrassed.
Insurance companies and juries will also evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, check for pre-existing injuries, and look at the claimant’s family situation and marital status. Even the claimant’s likeability may be a factor in determining how much to award.
These are just some of the countless factors to take into consideration. Pain and suffering is different for each person, and it needs to be determined how the person’s injuries will affect his or her emotional well-being and lifestyle. Each injury, victim, accident, and case is unique and must be thoroughly evaluated in order to arrive at an amount. In most states, juries are instructed to use their good sense, experience, and background in order to arrive at a reasonable and fair figure to compensate for the victim’s pain and suffering.
Limiting the Amount of Damages Awarded
The Constitution does not limit the amount of pain and suffering damages that may be awarded to a claimant. Due to economic concerns though, many states and local jurisdictions have established a restriction of some sort on pain and suffering awards.
In California, pain and suffering damages are capped at $250,000, while pain and suffering damages in New Hampshire are capped at $875,000. Many of these state limits, however, only apply to medical malpractice cases. In Florida, pain and suffering awards are capped at $500,000 per doctor in medical malpractice cases.
Other states calculate this pain and suffering limit on the total amount of economic damages received by the plaintiff. For example, the limit may be three times the amount of sustained economic damages.
Pain and Suffering vs. Punitive Damages
Pain and suffering is not to be confused with punitive damages. Pain and suffering damages arise from the actual physical injury, and are available to almost any injured claimant. Paying for these damages is part of the negligent defendant’s responsibility in order to restore the claimant to the position he or she was in prior to the accident.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are damages imposed by the court in order to punish a defendant for his or her behavior and not to repay the victim. Punitive damages are typically awarded on top of pain and suffering damages.