You likely have heard the phrase “pain and suffering” in reference to a car accident or personal injury lawsuit. No one really uses that phrase outside the context of a legal matter and it is rarely, if ever, used in normal conversation. However, most people do not understand what “pain and suffering” encompasses or how it is calculated when arriving at a settlement. But what exactly is pain and suffering and how is it calculated when determining a settlement amount?
There are generally two types of compensable damages in a personal injury lawsuit. This includes cases for motor vehicle accidents, dog attacks, slip and falls, medical malpractice, and all other cases alleging harm to a person. These recoverable damages are for economic losses and non-economic losses.
Economic losses are specific financial losses that can be proven by a party. These include lost wages, medical bills, and other exact dollar losses. For example, an economist can determine an injured person’s lost income after a car accident and also project those losses into the future if permanent disability resulted from the crash. Additionally, a vocational rehabilitation specialist can project future loss of earning capacity for an injured person who can no longer pursue a lucrative career.
Non-economic damages are those losses that are not financial in nature. Rather, it is the dollar amount assigned for physical and mental anguish resulting from the incident. These are referred to as “pain and suffering damages” and the precise amount is left for negotiation or a jury to determine.
The most well-known types of pain and suffering damages generally include:
- Physical pain and suffering, like bone fractures, nerve damage, or other trauma
- Mental anguish, including post-traumatic stress disorder
- Fright and shock caused during the incident itself
- Denials of social pleasure and enjoyments resulting from the injuries, like hobbies, recreations, and other activities
- Embarrassment, from scars, disfigurements, or other disabilities.
While many people believe there is a schedule or guideline for pain and suffering damages, there is actually no such formula to determine the amounts. Experienced attorneys use your medical records, testimony, physician testimony, and other factors to show the extent of your physical pain. Medical records also document the psychological trauma and damage resulting from your pain.
In many cases, a psychologist or psychiatrist will testify for the plaintiff to show how the injuries have affected the injured person’s life both physically and emotionally. Many times, close relationships and even marriages suffer serious harm after a serious accident. Compensation can be awarded for the negative effect on these relationships and a spouse may even be able to make his or her own claim.
The location of the injury and the courthouse also impact the amount of a settlement. Some areas of specific states are known for having juries that are not as generous as others in awarding pain and suffering damages. Finally, the amount of an insurance policy limit impacts the amount of compensation that an injured person can receive in a settlement. An experienced lawyer will pursue all possible avenues of coverage to maximize the settlement amount.