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Injured? You Can Sue for More Than Medical Bills — Pain and Suffering

By Andrew Chow, Esq. | Last updated on

Being injured can be a major setback, but as FindLaw’s Personal Injury Lawsuit articles explain, there are plenty of legal recourses that you can turn to be “made whole.” A lot of those setbacks are financial, and we’ve covered in other articles how you can sue for damages to pay for things like hospital bills.

Unfortunately, the damage caused can go beyond physical injuries and medical expenses. When someone else causes you a serious injury and you’ve filed a personal injury claim, you may also want to sue for "pain and suffering." But what exactly is "pain and suffering," and how do you get a court to award damages for it?

What Is ‘Pain and Suffering’?

As your personal injury lawyer may tell you, "pain and suffering" is a legal term that encompasses both the physical and emotional distress caused by the injury. It goes beyond medical bills and aims to compensate you for the mental anguish and other negative consequences that can affect your quality of life.

In a personal injury lawsuit, two main types of things qualify as pain and suffering: physical pain and mental anguish.

Physical Pain

This refers to the actual physical discomfort and distress caused by the injury. It includes things like pain from broken bones, muscle strains, headaches, and chronic pain.

The key difference between the physical pain of "pain and suffering" and medical bills lies in how they are viewed and compensated:

  • Medical Bills: These are tangible costs associated with treating the physical injury. They cover things like doctor visits, surgeries, medication, physical therapy, and any other necessary medical intervention. They are considered economic damages and have a clear dollar amount attached.
  • Physical Pain from Pain and Suffering: This focuses on the experience of the pain itself, beyond the financial cost of treating it. It acknowledges the discomfort, limitation, and overall impact the pain has on your daily life. Pain and suffering is considered non-economic damage and is more subjective, making it harder to assign a specific dollar value.

Here's an analogy: Imagine breaking your arm. Medical bills would cover the cost of setting the bone and the cast. However, the throbbing pain you experience, the inability to use your arm, and the frustration of daily tasks becoming difficult would fall under pain and suffering.

Mental Anguish

This covers the emotional distress caused by the injury, acknowledging the emotional toll an injury takes on a victim. It goes beyond the physical discomfort and focuses on the psychological distress caused by the injury.

This can encompass a wide range of negative emotions such as:

  • Anxiety: Worrying about the future, feeling on edge, or having trouble relaxing.
  • Depression: Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • Fear: Phobias related to the injury or fear of re-injury.
  • Humiliation: Feeling embarrassed or ashamed due to the injury or its limitations.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life: Inability to participate in activities you once enjoyed because of the injury.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): This can develop after a particularly traumatic injury and involve flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance.

Remember, mental anguish is subjective. There's no fixed formula for calculating pain. However, by presenting strong evidence of the severity and impact of your emotional distress, you can strengthen your pain and suffering claim.

What Counts, and What Doesn’t?

Not all injuries will lead to damages for pain and suffering. Simply being annoyed or inconvenienced by a minor injury usually won't cut it. (As TV's Judge Judy often says when dealing with litigants' unfounded pain-and-suffering claims, "The only one suffering here is me!")

In general, damages for pain and suffering can be awarded for past, present, and future physical distress in a personal injury case. A jury typically considers several factors in its deliberations and calculations, such as:

  • The age of the injured victim. Younger victims may get larger pain-and-suffering damages, if they will have to deal with pain for the rest of their lives.
  • The type of injury. Brain injuries, and injuries that cause continuing physical pain, will generally result in larger awards.
  • Severity and Duration: How the injury affects the victim matters. The severity and duration of the mental anguish are crucial factors. It should be more than a temporary inconvenience and significantly impact your daily life. This includes consideration of past, present, and future pain and suffering -- including the certainty of future pain.

How Can I Prove Mental Anguish?

Proving mental anguish requires evidence. This can include:

  • Medical Records: Documentation from therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists detailing your diagnosis and the impact of the injury on your mental health.
  • Testimony: Your own account of how the injury has affected your emotions and daily life. Statements from friends, family, or therapists who can corroborate your experience can also be helpful.
  • Connecting the Dots: The key is to establish a clear connection between the injury and the mental anguish you're experiencing. A qualified mental health professional can help document this link.

Proving emotional pain can be easier for some injuries than others. For example, juries will be naturally sympathetic over the wrongful death of a child. A disfigurement or loss of a limb is easy to connect to the loss of quality of life. Some less obvious injuries can be more difficult to prove.

Other Considerations

Jurors who consider pain-and-suffering claims are generally asked to "reasonably compensate" the victim for non-economic losses. Jurors usually don't get much guidance from the court, however, and instead defer to their personal experience and common sense.

That's why pain-and-suffering awards can vary greatly, depending on the facts of the case and the jury. A lack of guidance may also be why jury awards for pain and suffering are frequently modified.

Aside from these general provisions, states and local jurisdictions may also impose their own limits on pain-and-suffering damages. Other states may require a victim to be conscious for a period of time during the injury, while others may allow a jury to automatically assume there's pain and suffering in certain types of injury cases.

Remember, this article is no substitute for the legal advice of an expert. If you’ve had the bad luck of being injured by someone else, a local personal-injury attorney can help to assess if your case is appropriate for a pain-and-suffering claim.

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