Pain and suffering damages are a form of monetary compensation that is intended to compensate you for the pain and the suffering that you have endured as the result of an injury caused by another person’s careless or negligent actions. Unlike economic damages, such as medical bills and lost wages, which are based on an actual amount of economic losses that you have suffered, pain and suffering damages are not based on any specific economic loss. Instead, this type of damages is decided on a case-by-case basis according to the facts of the case and the amount of damages typically awarded in similar cases. Pain and suffering damages are often referred to as noneconomic damages.
In determining the amount of pain and suffering damages that you should receive, the California personal injury law attempts to arrive at a monetary figure that represents that amount of compensation you should be entitled to receive for the pain and the suffering that you have endured. To determine the correct amount, a judge or jury formulates a number that would be a fair amount of compensation for you to receive. If your case is settled prior to trial or without going to Court, then your personal injury attorney will formulate a number and the attorneys for the person who injured you or their insurance company will formulate its own number, and the two of you will negotiate on a number that a judge or jury would be likely to award you if the case were to go to trial.
While in practice there are many factors that can affect the determination of a pain and suffering award, in most cases the single biggest factor that will guide the formulation of the proper amount to be awarded will be your total medical bills and nature and extent of your injuries. More specifically, it is the medical bills for treatment as opposed to diagnosis, since it is the treatment bills that bear upon the serious of your injury.
Medical bills are often the starting point for formulating an award of damages. As a general rule, without a large amount of medical bills, you will not receive a large pain and suffering compensation. For example, if you have only $5,000 in medical bills, on average you might obtain somewhere in the range of $5,000 – $25,000, and it would be rare to receive an award of greater than $25,000. If you have $100,000 in medical bills, then you might expect to receive somewhere in the range of $100,000 – $500,000, and it would be rare to receive an award of greater than $500,000.
The nature and extent of your injuries are also very important. If you have a minor whiplash, then you would typically recover very little compensation. If you have broken bones or trauma leaving lasting or permanent effects such as permanent disfigurement, you would be typically recovering much greater compensation. Let’s take the previous example involving $5,000 in medical bills. If the $5,000 in medical bills are from going to a chiropractor to treat whiplash and minor back pain, then you can expect to receive a pain and suffering damage award closer to the $5,000 range. However, if the $5,000 in medical bills are from a doctor’s visit to take X-rays and put a cast on a broken arm, then you can expect to receive a damages closer to the $25,000 range. This is because under personal injury law soft tissue injuries (such as whiplash and back pain) are viewed as less serious and causing less suffering and pain than broken bones. The law is not perfect. In some cases back pain can be much more painful than a broken bone. Nonetheless, under California law, soft tissue injuries are generally considered to be less painful.
In cases involving permanent and lasting trauma or disfigurement, the pain and suffering award could be even higher. In the example involving $5,000 in medical bills, if the medical bills were due to a hospital visit as the result of a laceration of the face that leaves permanent disfigurement, an award of damages could easily go higher than $25,000, to as high as $50,000 or more.
The length of your recovery also has a big effect on the amount of damages that you will receive. If your recovery will take (or has taken) 2 years, then you will be found to have experienced greater suffering and pain than if your recovery took just 3-6 months. In general, a longer length of recovery will increase your total award that you might expect to receive.
In car accident cases, the amount of damage to your car, truck or other vehicle may affect the amount of a pain and suffering award you can expect to receive. If your car has a slight dent result from an accident, you can expect a smaller monetary award than if your car was totaled. Reasonable people would make an inference that a more severe accident has likely caused you become more injured and have greater suffering.
In cases involving medical malpractice, there is pain and suffering cap that limits that amount of a damages award that you can obtain against a doctor, hospital, or health care provider.