What are “pain and suffering” damages and how are they measured?

You may have heard that you can recover “pain and suffering” damages from an automobile accident. That is correct, but what does it mean? And how do you measure pain and suffering?

“Damages” from a personal injury, like a car accident, are often divided into two categories: economic damages and noneconomic damages. Economic damages typically include “hard” dollar losses, like medical bills, lost wages, and future medical expenses. Economic damages are sometimes called “special” damages.

Noneconomic damages, sometimes called “general” damages, typically include other types of damages, damages that are more difficult to measure, often because they are less tangible than economic damages. Noneconomic damages include mental and physical pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, and impairment of the quality of life. Colorado law does not include damages for physical impairment or disfigurement in the category of noneconomic damages.

Pain and suffering obviously includes the pain and suffering you experience because of your injuries and the accident itself, but it also may include discomfort, fear, insomnia, depression, anxiety, grief, worry, shock, memory loss, inconvenience, and the loss of the enjoyment of life.

If this list seems vague to you, that is because it is vague. Most arguments about the value of a claim, including arguments with the insurance companies and arguments presented to a jury, vary widely when discussing the value of pain and suffering because there is no strict rule for valuing the losses caused by pain and suffering.

Compensation for Pain and Suffering

Even so, there are several factors that insurance companies, lawyers, and jurors consider when deciding how to measure compensation pain and suffering. This list is not exhaustive or complete; pain and suffering is unique for each injury victim. However, it provides a useful list of factors to consider:

  • The amount of your economic damages. Frequently, insurance companies and jurors will use the amount of your economic damages as a basis for calculating pain and suffering. The higher the economic damages, the higher the valuation of pain and suffering damages.
  • Your age and physical condition immediately before the accident and your physical condition at the time of the claim or trial, and your recovery time. Bodies deteriorate over time. How much the accident altered the trajectory of your physical and mental health will affect how your pain and suffering is measured.
  • The types of medical treatments you underwent, the medications prescribed to you, and any unpleasant side effects of such treatments and medications.
  • Whether your accident-caused injuries are “new” or the result of aggravating pre-existing injuries or conditions.
  • How your injuries, and the resulting pain and suffering, have affected your quality of life, including hobbies, daily activities, family time, recreational activities, and the like.
  • The amount of work or school you missed because of your injuries, especially if you were directed by a physician or other treatment provider not to work or attend school.
  • The degree to which your injuries were identified by your medical treatment providers, whether through examination of imaging studies, like MRIs and x-rays. The more indisputable your injury, the more likely you are to recover pain and suffering damages.
  • The likelihood that you will need future treatment or that you will continue to suffer pain and suffering in the future as a result of the accident.
  • Whether you have had to undergo surgery or other unique or dramatic types of medical care or treatment.
  • Dramatic and easy-to-comprehend injuries, like broken bones, gaping wounds, tears, and dislocations are typically valued higher—whether or not they are actually more painful—than those that are less tangible.
  • Personal intangibles that have absolutely nothing to do with the injuries, such as how likeable and attractive you are. People can be quite superficial when determining credibility. Like it or not, jurors are humans and humans are naturally judgmental; add to that the fact that jurors are literally supposed to be judgmental. Can the jurors empathize with you and your injuries or is your suffering too abstract to understand? Do they find you obnoxious and whiny? Are you a convicted felon? Someone who makes lots of injury claims? Did someone get a video of you screaming obscenities at the at-fault driver after the accident? Even if they seem like illogical or unfair considerations, how you present to the jury will almost always affect how your damages are measured.

Please do not consider the above list to be complete and exhaustive: injuries, pain, and suffering are as unique as the individuals who suffer them. An experienced personal injury lawyer will analyze your unique conditions and estimate pain and suffering damages accordingly.

Pain and suffering damages vary widely from case to case. An experienced personal injury attorney can discuss you pain and suffering damages with you and how they affect the value of your case. The attorneys at Springs Law Group offer free consultations and would be happy to discuss your unique case with you, including how pain and suffering would factor into the value of your claim. Give us a call!

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