How Is Pain and Suffering Determined in a Personal Injury Claim?

By Peter DePaolis

Most Americans have heard the term “pain and suffering” but they may not understand how this concept really comes into play in civil claims. The justice system in the United States recognizes that for most injury victims, their experiences are more impactful than their economic issues resulting from other parties’ negligence. Therefore, many personal injury victims receive pain and suffering compensation from successful civil claims that reflects the physical pain, mental anguish, and emotional suffering caused by defendants’ negligence.

Justifying Pain and Suffering Damages

In a typical personal injury claim, the jury reviewing the claim will assess the plaintiff’s claimed damages, the defendant’s behavior, and the scope of the impact of the defendant’s behavior as it pertains to the plaintiff’s damages. Personal injury claims usually include economic damages for things like medical expenses, property damage, and lost income and noneconomic damages which include pain and suffering.

Calculating economic damages is relatively easy; if a defendant caused a plaintiff $20,000 in medical expenses, $100,000 in lost income, and $10,000 in property damage, the plaintiff’s economic damages equal $130,000. Plaintiffs generally only need to provide proof of their economic damages that shows their full extent and a clear link to the defendant’s behavior. Calculating noneconomic damages like pain and suffering is more difficult and typically subject to local laws and guidelines.

Additionally, the court may want verifiable proof the plaintiff experienced pain and suffering as a result of the defendant’s actions. Expert witnesses often come into play to justify claims for pain and suffering. For example, if a plaintiff complains of severe pain when getting out of bed in the morning or while performing certain actions after an injury, a medical professional with a relevant background could testify as to the legitimacy of this claim and help the jury better understand the full scope of the plaintiff’s experiences resulting from the defendant’s negligence.

Formulas for Calculating Pain and Suffering

U.S. courts use two main methods for calculating pain and suffering damages. The method chosen typically reflects the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries and the scope of his or her economic damages. The first method is to simply multiply the plaintiff’s medical expenses (or all of the plaintiff’s economic damages) by a certain digit to reflect the severity of the injury.

For example, if a plaintiff incurred $10,000 in medical expenses for a compound bone fracture that will require several months to fully heal, the jury may multiply the plaintiff’s medical expenses by three to reflect the severity of the plaintiff’s injury for a total of $30,000 in pain and suffering compensation. In a case involving $5,000 in medical expenses for a minor injury that will heal in a few weeks, the plaintiff’s pain and suffering compensation will likely be much lower.

The multiplier method is the preferred method when a plaintiff suffered serious injuries or incurred substantial medical expenses from his or her injury. When a plaintiff has a less certain prognosis, or it is difficult to tell how long the plaintiff will need to fully recover, the court may use a “per diem” system instead. This system awards a set amount of compensation for each day the victim spends healing until he or she reaches maximum medical recovery. For example, if a jury decides on $200 per day until a plaintiff reaches maximum possible recovery and it takes 100 days before the plaintiff’s doctor clears him or her as reaching maximum medical recovery, the plaintiff receives a total of $20,000 in pain and suffering compensation.

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Pain and suffering damages are often difficult to estimate, but many plaintiffs find that their pain and suffering compensation forms a large portion of their overall recoveries. If you or a loved one experienced a personal injury resulting in painful wounds and extensive recovery time, speak with a personal injury attorney to learn how pain and suffering damages could apply in your case.


About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.