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When Can I Sue For Pain And Suffering?

Thousands of personal injury lawsuits are filed each year by people who were injured in accidents.  In some cases, victims are awarded substantial sums of money.  Indeed, the media often highlights jury awards that top $10,000,000.  More often, however, victims receive damage awards that amount to a few thousand dollars.  Why the disparity?  Typically, when personal injury lawsuit damage awards reach 8 or 9 figures, the bulk of the award is for pain and suffering.  Can anyone, who is injured in an accident, sue for pain and suffering?

What is a Pain and Suffering Award?

When someone is injured in an accident due to the negligence of another person, the law allows that victim to sue the responsible party in a personal injury lawsuit.  In almost all cases a victim can recover medical expenses and lost wages for missing work.  Unlike damages awarded for medical expenses and lost wages, an award for pain and suffering is not an easily quantifiable economic award.  Pain and suffering awards are linked to both the emotional trauma and the physical a victim experienced because of the accident and injuries.  For example, those who experience severe injuries often suffer depression, general inconvenience, and mental anguish.  Moreover, victims of physical trauma sometimes have to cope with permanent disfigurement, pain, and extended limitations on physical activities.

Who can Sue for Pain and Suffering?

Except for injuries that result from workplace accidents, that are covered by worker’s compensation rules, anyone who is injured in an accident can file a personal injury lawsuit and request that the court awards damages for pain and suffering along with other damages.  However, the amount of a pain and suffering award will have a direct relationship to the severity of the injury.  The court considers and observes a number of factors to assess theseverity of an injury.  The actual medical expenses are often used to measure an appropriate pain and suffering award.  For example, a court may award pain and suffering equal to three times the amount of medical expenses.  A permanent disfigurement, such as a scar or a limp, will bear on the amount of a pain and suffering award.  For instance, a jury may feel that facial disfigurement is more severe than a scar left on an arm.  If a victim shows that he or she suffered a great deal of pain as evidenced by pain medication prescribed, the court will take that into consideration when determining the amount of pain endured.  Other evidence of significant pain and suffering may include the testimony from the victim explaining that he or she suffered emotional trauma, which required extended care from a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Limits on Pain and Suffering Awards

While victims of accidents can sue for pain and suffering, many states currently have statutory caps on the amount of pain and suffering a plaintiff can be awarded. For example, New Hampshire has a cap of $875,000 while California’s limit is $250,000.   In some cases such caps apply only to medical malpractice cases.

Tort reform debate has raged on for decades, largely centering on high jury awards in personal injury cases.  Do you think that there should be statutory caps on pain and suffering awards?  Or should there be clearer guidelines for putting a dollar amount on pain and suffering?

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