Pain and Suffering: What You Should Know

Economic damages — lost earnings and medical expenses — are relatively easy to calculate. But they do not tell the whole story. The in a personal injury case, the plaintiff is also able to recover non-economic damages for:

  • Pain and Suffering: physical pain, fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, mortification, shock, humiliation, indignity, embarrassment, apprehension, terror or ordeal.
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: impairment of capacity to enjoy certain activities of life as a result of the injury.

What exactly is pain and suffering in a personal injury case?

For purposes of personal injury cases, ‘pain and suffering’ is generally considered as a phrase rather than as two separate concepts. The Supreme Court for California explained it like this:

In general, courts have not attempted to draw distinctions between the elements of ‘pain’ on the one hand, and ‘suffering’ on the other; rather, the unitary concept of ‘pain and suffering’ has served as a convenient label under which a plaintiff may recover not only for physical pain but for fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, mortification, shock, humiliation, indignity, embarrassment, apprehension, terror or ordeal.

What is loss of enjoyment of life, and how is that different?

The Ohio Supreme Court discussed loss of enjoyment of life damages in some detail in a 1992 decision called Fantozzi v. Sandusky Cement Prod. Co.

The damage with which we deal here is the claimed impairment of one’s physical capacity to enjoy the amenities of life. This concept entails providing compensation for the deprivation of one’s ability to engage in those activities, and perform those functions, which were part of, and provided pleasure to, one’s life prior to the injury. This type of claimed damage is distinguishable from those types of damages that are based upon recognized categories of bodily pain and mental suffering. The claim of damages for deprivation or impairment of life’s usual activities has, in other jurisdictions, been applied to a wide variety of pleasurable activities shown to have been curtailed by the injuries received by the plaintiff. Such damages include loss of ability to play golf, dance, bowl, play musical instruments, engage in specific outdoor sports, along with other activities. These types of experiences are all positive sensations of pleasure, the loss of which could provide a basis for an award of damages to the plaintiff in varying degrees depending upon his involvement, as shown by the evidence. Such proof differs from the elements of mental suffering occasioned by the plaintiff’s injury such as nervousness, grief, shock, anxiety, and so forth. Although the loss of the ability to engage in a usual pleasant activity of life is an emotional experience, it is a loss of a positive experience rather than the infliction of a negative experience.

In Ohio, the personal injury plaintiff may recover damages for both ‘pain and suffering’ as well as ‘loss of enjoyment of life’. The Ohio Supreme Court recognized that there may be some overlap of the two concepts. Therefore, the judge in a personal injury case will instruct the jury to consider both types of non-economic damages, but to avoid awarding compensation for the same loss twice.

So, when it comes time to settle a personal injury claim, how much is pain and suffering worth? There is no definite answer to that question. In the Fantozi case, the Ohio Supreme Court acknowledged that ‘pain and suffering’ is

. . . difficult to evaluate in a monetary sense. The assessment of such damage is, however, a matter solely for the determination of the (jury) because there is no standard by which such pain and suffering may be measured.

In short, it is up to the jury to assign a value to a ‘pain and suffering’ award. Although, there is no definite way to tell how much a jury might award in a particular case, a qualified trial lawyer will be able to help you understand what juries have awarded for ‘pain and suffering’ in similar cases.