If you’ve experienced a personal injury, not all of your injuries are easily seen or documented. Some are not as tangible as a damaged car or dollar figure of your medical bills. However, pain and suffering can still be among the damages you seek in your claim or lawsuit.
Understanding Pain and Suffering in Legal Terms
In personal injury claims, there are two types of pain and suffering: Physical and Mental.
Physical pain and suffering is the pain you experience from physical injuries. It can include not just the discomfort or the pain that you’ve experienced so far, but also the long-term or ongoing affects of your injuries as well.
If your injuries are likely to continue to cause you pain and suffering in the future, you will need medical evidence to support the damage you seek. Just as you must have documentation and expert medical opinions supporting that you’ve already experienced physical pain and suffering, you must also have these same key pieces of evidence documenting how likely it is that your physical trauma will continue to be an issue in the future.
Examples of physical pain and suffering can include:
- Initial injuries – documented through photographs and medical records
- Injuries requiring physical therapy or other long-term or ongoing treatment – documented through physician statements, medical appointments, and diagnostic tests showing the need for continued therapy
- Permanent losses that are accompanied by physical pain and discomfort – documented through physician statements and diagnostic evaluations
Mental pain and suffering on the other hand is harder to document, but is no less important to your overall wellbeing. It can include any negative emotion or mental anguish you experience as a result of your physical injuries or due to the other circumstances of your personal injury. Examples of mental pain and suffering can include:
- Emotional distress
- Stress or anxiety
More severe examples of mental pain and suffering may include documented medical conditions, like:
- Impulse control issues, resulting from your anger over the circumstances of your injuries and the life changes they’ve caused
- Depression and its symptoms, including loss of appetite, sleep disturbances or changes, sexual dysfunction, and loss of life enjoyment, among others
- Post-traumatic stress disorder or other anxiety disorders and their symptoms
Though mental pain and suffering can be more difficult to prove in a personal injury claim, many of the emotional or mental symptoms you experience can be documented through medical means, including:
- Statements from a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist
- Prescription records for anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications
- Appointment schedules for meeting with your mental health practitioner
- Statements from friends, family, employers, or co-workers regarding the changes in your behavior, demeanor, productivity, or personality
How a Lawyer Can Help Determine Pain and Suffering
It’s a judge or jury’s responsibility to assign a dollar figure to damages in a personal injury claim, if it goes to court, and there are no clear cut guidelines on designating a value of the pain or suffering you’ve experienced. Instead, “good judgment” is the guiding force in a judge’s or jury’s decision, but a skilled attorney can greatly influence the determination of damages in your personal injury lawsuit.
You need to prove that your pain and suffering came from the other party's negligence. Your lawyer can help you establish that you’re due a “multiplier” of your total medical expenses, lost wages, or other more tangible or easily proven damages. Your legal counsel may also be able to get you “special damages” in some circumstances.
They will assist you in collecting the evidence needed to prove your claim and to show beyond a doubt that your pain and suffering warrant compensation. They may:
- call witnesses,
- take statements from experts,
- or enter other evidence into the formal record.
They can also help you decide what damages to include in your lawsuit, based on the circumstances of your injuries and of your pain and suffering.