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Pain and Suffering Damages in North Carolina

Three days of rain after a surprisingly dry early autumn have left the roads a mess – but you aren’t going to let ordinary mid-Atlantic weather stop you from tailgating at the Panthers make-or-break matchup against the Cardinals. It may only be October, but the season is on the line. It’s just too bad that the guy in the Ford-F150 that parked behind your grilling site had a few too many Dirty Beetz before trying to turn on his heater – third-degree burns from the grill pressed into your sternum and two crushed tibias are going to put you in more hurt than a concussed Carson Palmer.

This means pain and suffering. Lots of each, plus years of medical issues and a lot of time off work. Calculating the damages from missing work is easy, but what about the pain and suffering? Read on to learn more about pain and suffering damages in North Carolina.

How Do Pain and Suffering Damages Work?

These “pain and suffering” damages cover more than hurt feelings or embarrassment – they account for the physical pain and emotional distress that a person deals with after an accident or intentional harm by another person. Distress (or “anguish”) may include depression, anxiety, loss of sleep, and other mental symptoms that accompany the injuries sustained. Obviously, this is hard to calculate -- there is no dollar amount immediately associated with such pains, which doesn’t make them any less real to the victim. Because of their less calculable nature, pain and suffering awards are often called non-economic (or “general”) damages.

When attempting to place a dollar value on these pain and suffering damages, a judge or jury might include:

  • The extent to which the injured party’s daily routine will be limited or altered
  • How the injury impact relationships at home or work
  • How the pain or injury affects sleep or other lifestyle factors
  • How the injury impacts the party in the long term

Limits on Pain and Suffering Damages

Because finding an appropriate dollar amount for such a subjective injury is so inexact, lawmakers and other interested parties (like doctors) fear abuse by sympathetic juries in the form of major awards – sometimes many times higher than the actual economic damages that occurred as a result of an accident. As a result, many states, North Carolina included, have placed limits on these damages to keep awards under control. While these caps may reduce the potential for abuse, these laws also limit the recovery available to those who are legitimately injured and suffering excruciating pain or distress.

Contributory or Comparative Negligence

Contributory negligence. Any fault on the part of the claimant bars recovery. Smith v. Fiber Controls Corp., 268 S.E.2d 504

Non-Economic Damages


Medical Malpractice

$500,000 cap applies to all but the most egregious cases. Amount adjusted every three years for inflation beginning in 2014. N.C.G.S. § 90-21.19

Contributory Negligence May Prohibit Recovery

North Carolina is a “contributory negligence” state, which means that there are laws here that prohibit recovery for damages if the injured party is even a tiny bit at fault. This includes economic and non-economic damages, like pain and suffering.

Medical Malpractice Claims Limited

While North Carolina does not limit non-economic or pain and suffering awards in all cases generally, there is a recently enacted law that applies to medical malpractice cases only. The law, passed in 2011, puts a cap on non-economic damages at $500,000 for all medical malpractice actions filed on or after October 1, 2011.

There is only one exception to the cap – where the judge or jury finds the defendant’s reckless, grossly negligent, fraudulent, intentional, or malicious conduct proximately caused the plaintiff “disfigurement, loss of use of part of the body, permanent injury or death.” The cap is adjusted for inflation every three years beginning in 2014.

Get a Claim Review from a North Carolina Accident Attorney

Pain and suffering is hard to prove and the limits placed on those damages by law makes getting significant damage awards difficult for many cases. Contact an experienced North Carolina accident attorney to discuss your case and develop a possible strategy moving forward.

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