Pain and Suffering Laws: Damages, Compensation, Suing, and Settlement Examples

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 What Are Pain and Suffering Damages?

In the context of a personal injury lawsuit, a court may award a plaintiff damages for pain and suffering to make up for any physical or emotional injuries, loss, or illness that the defendant caused them. These damages are meant to pay for the impact that the resulting harm had on the individual’s quality of life. Thus, pain and suffering damages are subjective and will generally vary on a case by case basis. 

The actual legal definition of pain and suffering is described as the “emotional or physical distress suffered from an injury.”

What Are Some Examples of Pain and Suffering?

A court may award pain and suffering damages for a variety of reasons. The following list provides some common examples of pain and suffering for which damages may be awarded, including:

  • Reduction in quality of life;
  • Physical pain or impairment (e.g., broken bones);
  • Mental anguish or suffering; 
  • Loss of enjoyment of life; 
  • Disfigurement; 
  • Grief if the incident resulted in the death of a loved one; and/or
  • If the harm potentially shortened the plaintiff’s life span.

When Am I Entitled to Damages for Pain and Suffering?

A person may be able to claim pain and suffering compensation if they have been injured and are experiencing any forms of physical or emotional pain tied to that injury. For instance, if a defendant’s conduct causes enough permanent damage to a person that it actually alters their physical appearance (e.g., scarring from a fire), then they may recover damages for pain and suffering.  

As a general rule, the pain and suffering must not be imaginary. So, for example, if a plaintiff lies or cannot prove that they are truly suffering from emotional trauma caused by the incident, then it will be difficult to collect damages for pain and suffering.

How Much Money Can You Sue for Pain and Suffering, and Are There Limits?

Generally speaking, monetary amounts for a pain and suffering claim are relatively subjective. The reason for this is because there are no uniform standards in place and it would be impossible to create them since these types of damages are directly related to the actual injury. 

However, some states have statutes that limit the amount of pain and suffering damages that a court can award a plaintiff. For instance, some state laws restrict damages to only three times the amount of what actual damages cost. Other states may cap damages anywhere between $250,000 and $875,000. 

Another way that damages may be calculated is through insurance standards. For example, some insurance companies will apply a daily rate and will use that number to multiply it by the amount of days that the plaintiff has suffered. 

Other insurance companies will consider certain factors about the injury and assign a variable between 1.5 and 5 to come up with the final amount. Regardless of the method used, the amount cannot exceed the limit provided by a state statute.

How Is Pain and Suffering Proven?

Some evidence that may offer proof of personal injury pain and suffering claims include:

  • Medical bills and medical records;
  • Extent of injury and the related medical diagnosis proving that it exists;
  • Expert witnesses (usually medical professionals);
  • The amount of time that the symptoms have persisted;
  • Physical or mental limitations that have affected the plaintiff’s daily life; 
  • Photos of an injury; and
  • Proving the relevant elements of the case that the request for pain and suffering damages is associated with (e.g., if the case is for a car accident caused by a negligent defendant, then the plaintiff must be able to prove the elements of negligence in order to recover damages for any related pain and suffering). 

When are Pain and Suffering Damages Awarded? Is Pain and Suffering Separate from Medical Bills?

As discussed in the above section, pain and suffering damages may be awarded after the plaintiff has proven the claim to which they are attached. For instance, if a defendant’s reckless driving led to an accident and the plaintiff can prove the legal elements required for such an action, then the plaintiff may request pain and suffering damages in connection to that accident.

It is important to keep in mind that pain and suffering damages are not the same as the damages received for medical bills or costs. Pain and suffering damages, or general damages, are specifically meant to financially help the patient manage their emotional and physical pain. 

In contrast, the damages received for things like medical expenses are referred to as “compensatory damages.” Compensatory damages reimburse the plaintiff for what they had to pay for medical treatment and other costs. For instance, if the plaintiff required surgery after an accident, compensatory damages would reimburse them for hospital bills and the amount that the surgery cost.

Sticking with that same example, damages for pain and suffering would include things like if the patient suffered mental anguish from the accident and was afraid to ever drive a car again, or if their injuries made them depressed because the accident altered their physical appearance.

What are Some Guidelines When Suing for Pain and Suffering?

Some general items to consider in a related lawsuit for pain and suffering damage awards include:

  • Record details about the injury, such as how long it lasted, the level of pain, and a person’s mental state prior to and after the injury.
  • Present the symptoms in a clear and unambiguous manner. For example, if the pain is physical, show pharmacy receipts for medications and medical bills for pain management doctors. 
  • Keep track of all written documents (e.g., medical records, police reports, pay stubs that show a decrease in salary, etc.). 
  • Most importantly, be sure to file for these awards as soon as possible. A victim may not collect damages if the statute of limitations for pain and suffering damages has expired.

What Are Pain and Suffering Settlements and Can They Be Disputed?

As mentioned, pain and suffering damages are highly subjective, which is why it may be more effective for the parties to settle the exact amount of damages outside of a courtroom. That way the parties can come up with a number that is fair and represents a relatively accurate value of the amount that the plaintiff should receive.

However, these types of settlements are usually binding. Thus, unless the parties agree to alter the terms of the settlement, then they will not be allowed to change the conditions or the amount of damages. On the plus side, parties involved in settlements are usually more open to negotiations and can offer greater flexibility than if the matter is decided in a court. 

Some general pain and suffering settlement examples include:

  • No more than $15,000 for the average auto accident;
  • Anywhere between $1 million to $1.5 million for failure to diagnose cancer and other terminal diseases in medical malpractice cases; and
  • The average slip and fall settlement is between $15,000 and $45,000 for total damages. Depending on the facts of the case and what method is used to calculate damages, pain and suffering will make up some portion of an amount between that range. 

Sometimes, the parties will have to go to court if they cannot agree on an amount. This can make it difficult to predict how much the plaintiff will be awarded since it will usually be up to a jury to decide. Also, if the parties do go to court, the amount of damages awarded will most likely be set in stone unless the defendant can find new evidence or facts that will change the outcome of the case.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help When Suing for Pain and Suffering?

Oftentimes, it can be very difficult to obtain damages for pain and suffering. Therefore, if you wish to sue for pain and suffering damages, then you may want to consult a local personal injury lawyer for further legal advice. 

Working with a pain and suffering lawyer can provide many benefits, including having a knowledgeable resource around to answer any questions that arise during your case. Your lawyer can also help you collect evidence to prove damages, discuss the laws regarding pain and suffering damages in your state, and can negotiate on your behalf during a settlement.

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