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How Are Pain & Suffering Damages Calculated?

Wooden gavel laying on American dollarsA personal injury settlement or jury award is meant to compensate the victim for losses suffered because of the accident – those losses are not always clearly measured. Pain and suffering is not easy to quantify the way medical bills are. There are some general practices that can help you understand how a pain and suffering award may be calculated.

Types of personal injury damages

A personal injury award can be made up of different components. First, it can be broken down into:

  • Punitive damages – to punish wrongdoing; and
  • Compensatory damages – to reimburse the plaintiff for losses.

The compensatory damages can then be broken down into

  • Special damages – also known as “economic damages”, these are based on a determined amount, like medical bills and lost wages; and
  • General damages – or “non-economic damages” like pain and suffering, which have no set monetary value.

Pain and suffering, therefore, is a type of general damages; under California law, personal injury victims are entitled to compensation for it. It can be broken down into two components: physical pain, including impairment to lifestyle and hobbies, and emotional suffering including anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Determining pain and suffering amount

Even though California law recognizes the right to compensation for pain and suffering, there is no clear cut answer on how much it is worth. There are a few methods to arrive at a figure and not all of the factors are applicable in every case.

  • Multiplier formula – this is probably the most recognized, and the starting point in many cases. It uses what is known – the medical bills – as a basis to calculate the unknown by multiplying the “specials” by a number, usually between 1.5 and 4. Insurance adjusters often rely on programs that assign a multiplier based on the type of injury and then apply that to the total cost of medical bills.
  • Per diem formula – far more commonly used by some personal injury attorneys in trial, this asks the jury to assign a daily rate, like $100, for each day of pain and suffering the victim is expected to suffer and multiply it by the number of days it finds the suffering will likely continue.

These formulas are just the start; the number is then affected by factors such as:

  • Locale – some communities are more plaintiff-friendly while others tend to sympathize with defendants
  • Credibility, and even likability, of the plaintiff and witnesses
  • Exaggeration of injuries can offend jurors and hurt the award
  • Physical injuries that disturb jurors can lead to larger pain and suffering awards – eye injuries are one example where jurors tend to be more generous
  • The lasting impact matters – an injury that permanently prevents someone from taking part in favorite family activities will be worth more than one that only causes a short-term impairment

A personal injury lawyer can help

There are a lot of considerations that can affect a pain and suffering award but a qualified Los Angeles personal injury lawyer from the Ellis Law Firm will be able to speak from experience as to what a realistic award may look like. Call today to schedule a free consultation. We never charge a fee unless we win money for you.

Additional “calculating damages for pain and suffering” resources:

  1. Justia, California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3905A. Physical Pain, Mental Suffering, and Emotional Distress (Noneconomic Damage), https://www.justia.com/trials-litigation/docs/caci/3900/3905a.html
  2. California Law Review, Placing a Price on Pain and Suffering: A Method for Helping Juries Determine Tort Damages for Non-monetary Injuries, http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1672&context=californialawreview