If you’re pursuing a personal injury lawsuit against someone, you should understand the factors that strengthen your case. To accomplish that, you must be familiar with the terms pain and suffering and how they use them in a legal setting.
Pain and suffering seem to be relatively straightforward terms, but there’s a fair amount of nuance to them. In this article, we’ll discuss those nuances in detail, so you can improve your case with the help of your lawyer.
Stay tuned to learn more about the significance of pain and suffering in your personal injury case, as well as the impact they can have.
Understanding How Pain and Suffering Figure into Your Compensation
Before we get into the specifics of what pain and suffering refer to from a legal perspective, it helps to understand the basics of compensation.
In personal injury cases, the plaintiffs who can successfully prove that the defendant caused them harm either directly or through negligence usually receives compensation. Compensation awards are referred to as compensatory damages in court.
Those compensatory damages are supposed to make up for the losses that the plaintiff has incurred. Compensatory damages can be broken down further into two types.
First off, you have the actual damages. According to Investopedia, actual damages are supposed to compensate plaintiffs for the actual financial hits they’ve taken that are related to the case.
For example, a car may have been out of control when it hit you while you were relaxing in your front yard. Once you prove the driver was at fault for that car accident, they will need to compensate you for any medical expenses you incurred as well as the damage done to your property.
The court may order the driver in that scenario to compensate you for your ambulance ride, for your future therapy expenses, and for new additions that you may require in your home due to the injuries you sustained. If you missed work due to the accident, they would award compensation for your lost earning capacity. Usually lost earning capacity means lost wages, but there are some circumstances where lost earning capacity may be greater.
General damages compensate plaintiffs for items that do not have an actual dollar value. The general damages in personal injury cases are supposed to reflect the estimated losses the plaintiff has already suffered and may suffer in the future.
On top of that, the general damages may account for things such as disfigurement, the loss of the ability to enjoy life, and yes, pain and suffering as well.
The Two Types of Pain and Suffering
They must consider two types of pain and suffering in personal injury cases. They are physical pain and suffering and mental/emotional physical pain and suffering.
Physical pain and suffering can have a significant impact on your daily life. You may be incapable of performing the duties associated with your current job due to the lingering effects of the injuries you sustained. Even relaxing may prove to be impossible because you constantly need to deal with the pain.
You must be compensated for the physical pain and suffering that it causes in your daily life.
Mental and emotional pain and suffering refer to how those injuries have changed you in other ways. You may now be suffering from depression because of your injuries, or perhaps you’re experiencing a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that keeps you from doing certain things.
Feelings of anguish and distress from your injuries also count as examples of mental and emotional pain and suffering. Some serious cases may result in debilitating psychological problems.
Although you survived the accident, your loved one may not have been as fortunate. The courts regard the grief you’re experiencing over their loss as pain and suffering.
Do You Need to Provide Proof if You Are Seeking Compensatory Damages for Pain and Suffering?
In a court setting, you can expect that the other party will contest anything they can to disprove or discredit the claims you’ve been making. So, what happens then? As the plaintiff, you may have to provide proof indicating that your claims of pain and suffering are legitimate.
Proving that you are dealing with physical pain and suffering from it should be simple enough. You can refer to the medical documents and allow them to detail how the injuries from the case are affecting you physically. It will be difficult for the other party to dispute that you are dealing with chronic pain if the documents reinforce your claims.
It may be harder to prove that the accident has taken a toll on you mentally and emotionally. The other party may have some success disputing that during the court proceedings.
If you are experiencing severe or mental trauma, it is important that the symptoms and feelings are documented by a health professional. The mental health professional can diagnose your current mental condition. They can also let the court know if you are experiencing mental and emotional side effects by your involvement in the accident.
The diagnosis of a mental health professional can prove immensely helpful in your case. It can demonstrate how big of a toll the accident has had on you beyond the physical effects. You stand a better chance of being compensated by working with a mental health professional.
Should You Sue for Pain and Suffering in Your Case?
The special damages, that is the medical expenses and lost earnings, are generally a fraction of the injuries you have sustained from an accident. There may be limitations on when you can claim pain and suffering. For example, in Massachusetts, you must have at least $2,000 in medical bills before you can claim pain and suffering damages in an auto accident. In most other cases, there is no requirement of a minimum amount of medical bills.
Generally speaking, suing for pain and suffering is advisable in personal injury cases. You can only sue for the actual damages if you prefer, but you may find yourself short on funds quickly since you need to pay for so many expenses.
If you sustained serious injuries from the accident, you may not have a choice but to sue for pain and suffering. There’s no telling when you might be well enough to start working again or even if you can go back to your old job. It would be helpful to have funds to draw from while you’re getting adjusted to your new life.
The only downside to suing for pain and suffering is that it could weaken your case somewhat. That can happen if the other side can disprove your claims.
Prevent that from happening by preparing your case adequately. Keep all the documents related to your injuries, track all the injuries you’ve been dealing with, and get medical professionals who can talk about the real impact those injuries can have on a person’s life.
Like we noted earlier, you can enlist the help of a mental health professional if you want to prove the accident and your resulting injuries have affected you mentally and emotionally.
As long as you can prove that you have been dealing with pain and suffering related to the case, there is no reason why you should be hesitant to account for them when the time comes for you to sue.
Working with a lawyer who can lead you to the right legal path will also be helpful here.
How Do You Quantify Pain and Suffering?
Suing for pain and suffering in a personal injury case is certainly justifiable. However, that does bring up an important question.
What number do you put on the pain and suffering you’ve been experiencing?
If you’ve never been to court to sort out a personal injury case, you might have assumed that the jury could declare any amount they deem fair. To a certain extent, that is indeed true.
The courts do not clearly define the guidelines when it comes to determining amounts for pain and suffering. They give the jury more freedom and flexibility to come up with an amount they think is right.
Still, there are distinct calculating methods that juries and even plaintiffs use for pain and suffering in personal injury cases. Let’s talk more about those methods below.
The Per Diem Method
The first method of calculating pain and suffering in a personal injury is the so-called per diem method. In this method, the courts assign a daily amount of money when a plaintiff remains affected. The amount of money is usually the same for each day.
They multiply the amount by the number of days it takes the plaintiff to fully recover from the accident. Fully recovered in this scenario can refer to the physical injuries, or it could also account for the mental and emotional scars left behind. That will be up to the jury to decide.
Note that some injuries have long recovery times. Brain injuries could have symptoms that persist for the rest of a person’s life.
The Multiplier Method
The multiplier method aims to quantify the severity of the injuries the plaintiff sustained as opposed to how long they sustain.
To calculate the amount of pain and suffering, the jury will add up all the actual damages in the case. That includes the medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and any other items that may apply.
After adding up the actual damages, the jury then takes that sum and multiplies it by a certain number. The number they choose reflects how severe the plaintiff’s injuries are in their opinion. Often, the jury will choose a number from one to five as the multiplier.
You can use that formula to come up with an amount to push in your case. Do note, though, that you and the jury could reach different conclusions regarding the appropriate compensation amount. There is subjectivity baked into the calculations, after all.
What Are Other Factors That Affect the Amount of Compensation You Receive for Pain and Suffering?
Determining the amount of compensation in a personal injury case is rarely ever straightforward. That rings especially true when it comes to calculating the compensation for a plaintiff’s pain and suffering.
Beyond the factors we’ve already discussed at length throughout this article, the plaintiff’s actions and how the jury perceives them can also impact the final compensation package.
Earlier, we noted that the only real downside to suing for pain and suffering is that the other side may disprove your claims. The other side may succeed in showing that you’ve been exaggerating your injuries and the effects they’ve had on you. Because of that, the jury may form a poor opinion of you and affect how they rule in terms of your compensation.
Also, the jury are still people, and they cannot completely shut out their emotions when ruling on your case. If they find you or your actions to be unlikeable, they may award you with lower compensation as a result.
Per this article from Penn State University, the division of blame can also affect the amount of compensation you receive. If they determine that you were at least partially to blame for what happened, that will reflect in the final compensation package awarded to you.
Securing fair compensation for your pain and suffering in your personal injury case will not be easy. You must work together with a highly skilled and experienced lawyer to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. Reach out to us at Breakstone, White & Gluck if you require assistance in your personal injury case.