What are Pain and Suffering Damages?
By Adam J. Langino, Esq.
What are pain and suffering damages? This article discusses the concept of pain and suffering damages and provides some helpful information if the negligence of another injures you or someone you care about.
What are Pain and Suffering Damages?
Many lawyers refer to pain and suffering damages as non-economic damages. They are often described as non-economic damages because any specific formula does not calculate them. In contrast, economic damages are calculable. For instance, a jury can add up your past medical bills to reach a specific dollar number to reimburse you for your medical expenses. Non-economic damages, like pain and suffering, are not as easy to calculate.
Non-economic damages are intended to make an injured person whole for the resulting pain and suffering, disability or physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of capacity to enjoy life from an injury.[i] Pain and suffering damages are intended to redress many injuries ranging from physical pain to anxiety, depression, and the resulting adverse impact upon the injured party's lifestyle.[ii]
As aptly stated by a Judge in Florida:
“Damages for pain and suffering are difficult to calculate, have no set standard of measurement, and for this reason, are uniquely reserved to a jury for their decision. When attempting to quantify a damage award for pain and suffering in a personal injury case, the trier of fact deals with the most intangible element of the award. [It] is as an attempt to measure that which is immeasurable.”[iii]
How are Pain and Suffering Damages Calculated?
There is no fixed formula for measuring pain and suffering damages. Judges instruct the jury that their attempt to do so should be fair and just, considering the evidence presented at trial.[iv] However, judges provide the jury with some suggestions on what they should consider in attempting to reach an amount.
For instance, in Florida, a judge instructs the jury to examine any resulting pain and suffering, disability, physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of capacity to enjoy life.[v]
Similarly, in North Carolina, a judge instructs the jury that damages for personal injury also include fair compensation for the actual past, present, and future physical pain and mental suffering the plaintiff experienced because of the defendant's wrongful conduct.[vi] The judge further instructs the jury that there is no fixed formula for placing a value on physical pain and mental suffering and that it should determine what fair compensation is by applying logic and common sense to the evidence.[vii]
Sometimes an injured person is disfigured due to the wrongful conduct of another. Like pain and suffering damages, there is no fixed formula for a jury to use to place a value on a person’s disfigurement. However, the judge provides guidance. For example, in North Carolina, a judge instructs a jury to evaluate an injured person’s past, present, and future embarrassment and mental suffering caused by the disfigurement.
As you can see, a jury has discretion in determining the amount of non-economic damages appropriate to make an injured party whole for the harms and losses they suffered. That is why a lawyer must take the time to learn precisely how a person’s injury has affected their life. If your lawyer is unwilling to do this or delegates this to a staff member, they may not be the best choice for your case.
How Can I Help My Lawyer Prove My Pain and Suffering Damages?
If you or someone you love was killed or catastrophically injured by the negligent acts of another, your lawyer needs your help to understand the significance of your loss. Here are a few tips:
Document your recovery: Are you doing physical therapy or just had surgery? Take a video.
Have your lawyer spend the day with you or your family: Do not plan; allow your lawyer to see how you live. Do not “sugar coat” your life. If you lost your husband or wife and can no longer sleep in your bed, your lawyer needs to know this.
Keep a journal: Are you having nightmares or migraines? Keep a journal of what’s happening to you.
Make a list of church members, co-workers, friends, neighbors, teachers, and others that can speak to how you were before your injury and now: List as many people as possible, and provide their cell phone numbers if you have them.
Speak to friends and family and gather photos and videos of you before your injuries: Did you play in an adult sports league before you were injured? Speak to your teammates and get videos.
The key is to document what’s happening to you. Your lawyer cannot be with you all the time. The more evidence you can collect, the better your lawyer can advocate your non-economic damages to a jury. It is a team effort, and documenting your loss is the most important thing you can do to help your case.
I am sorry if you are reading this because you or someone your love was killed or catastrophically injured by the negligent acts of another. Over my career, I have handled many wrongful death and catastrophic injury claims. I am licensed to practice law in Florida and North Carolina and co-counsel claims in other states. If you would like to learn more about me or my practice, click here. If you want to request a free consultation, click here. As always, stay safe and stay well.
[i]See Fla. J. Inst. 501.2
[ii]See Iadanza v. Harper, 169 N.C. App. 776, 780, 611 S.E.2d 217, 222 (2005).
[iii]See Ortega v. Belony, 185 So. 3d 538, 539-40 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2015)
[iv]See Fla. J. Inst. 501.2[
[vi] See N.C.P.I. 810.08