What Type of Damages Are Awarded for Pain and Suffering?

Car accident lawsuits often result in substantial compensation for “pain and suffering.” These non-economic losses are different than medical bill reimbursement and repayment for lost time off work, which are more easily calculated. If you’re not a personal injury lawyer, you may be wondering what types of damages are included under this vague term.

What is ‘pain and suffering?’

You may hear “pain and suffering” as a unitary concept to describe not only physical pain, but mental suffering like grief, nervousness, fright, shock, humiliation, indignity, embarrassment, terror, apprehension, anxiety, and ordeal. Admittedly, these terms are subjective, according to the California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI 3905A), but the detriment is a genuine one deserving of compensation – an issue that must be resolved by the “impartial conscience and judgment of jurors who may be expected to act reasonably, intelligently, and in harmony with the evidence.”

However, when the term is explored separately by the courts, jurors look at two types of pain and suffering damages: physical pain and mental suffering.

What damages are awarded for physical pain in a lawsuit?

“Pain” refers to the physical agony you experience from your car accident injuries. It may include current discomfort and the likely ongoing and future effects as well. Physical pain is generally awarded in cases where accident victims have “severe” injuries like: broken bones, dismemberment, disfigurement, loss of fetus, permanent loss of a body organ or system, permanent limitation of a body organ or system, significant impairment to daily life for at least 90 days.

The courts look at the amount of pain and discomfort typically associated with those injuries, the impact of those injuries on your sports/hobbies/relationships, the nature and scope of your medical treatment, the timeline for recovery, and whether you will need surgery, pain medication, or rehabilitation services as part of your healing.

To determine the amount of physical pain suffered, the court considers:

  • Initial Injuries – The first documents of acute injuries, including photographs and medical records.
  • Ongoing Treatment — The recommended treatment plan you’re going through currently is reviewed based on physician statements, scheduled medical appointments, and diagnostic tests.
  • Permanent / Future Losses – Physician statements and diagnostic evaluations indicate which permanent side effects are likely to accompany your present physical pain and discomfort.   

What damages are awarded for mental suffering in a lawsuit?

Mental “suffering” refers to the negative emotions, mental anguish, and psychological trauma that accompanies a physical injury. Mental suffering can be verified by statements from counselors, psychologists, or psychiatrists; prescription medication records; appointment schedules with mental health practitioners; and statements from family members, friends, or coworkers that verify changes in behavior, demeanor, personality, or productivity following the accident. A personal injury lawyer can be very helpful in gathering evidence to prove the unseen side effects of your physical car accident injuries.

Examples of mental suffering include documented mental health conditions:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Symptoms of anxiety include feeling restless, on edge, easily fatigued, irritable, and tense on a daily basis, for at least six months. Most sufferers have trouble concentrating and difficulty sleeping. People with GAD never feel comfortable or at ease.
  • Depression – Symptoms of depression include decreased energy, difficulty thinking or concentrating, sudden mood swings, difficulty doing routine physical activities, appetite changes, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, suicidal thoughts, paranoid delusions or hallucinations, and loss of enjoyment in life. Depression may be treated by cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or counseling. Some sufferers with severe depression go on permanent disability, particularly when they have difficulties maintaining concentration, social functioning, or adhering to daily routines.
  • Phobias – Victims of trauma may develop an excessive fear of having an accident called dystychiphobia. Car accident victims may suffer related phobias, such as vehophobia (the fear of driving) or amaxophobia (the fear of traveling in motor vehicles). This constant terror overshadows the sufferer’s daily life. Physical symptoms include breathlessness, heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, dry mouth, and dizziness.
  • Impulse control disorder – Anger over the circumstances of your initial injuries and the life changes they’ve caused can manifest in many different forms, including intermittent explosive disorder, kleptomania, pyromania, conduct disorder, antisocial personality, and oppositional defiant disorder. These conditions all involve the inability to control impulses and behavior toward other, and interfere with a person’s ability to function in daily life.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder – Like anxiety, PTSD manifests with irritability, sleep pattern disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and a general feeling of unease. Individuals with PTSD may be hypervigilant and easily startled or they may have angry outbursts. Flashbacks, hallucinations, and periods of heightened psychological distress can be triggered by nightmares, events, places, people, or objects. Individuals may have little control over intrusive thoughts and feelings that surface without warning. Sufferers may seek to avoid PTSD triggers as a coping mechanism.

Contact a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer at Salamati Law for a free case review to learn more about including pain and suffering damages along with your personal injury claim. For more than 20 years, we’ve developed a proven track record of six-figure car accident settlements and jury awards. You only pay us if we win money on your behalf.