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What is "Pain and Suffering" in a Personal Injury Claim?

Patrick C. Barry

News stories about lawsuits or jury awards for “pain and suffering” are often misunderstood. Make no mistake – they are “real” results of physical injuries and worthy of compensation.
Nonetheless, a little explanation might help you gain a better understanding.

The concept of “pain and suffering” is meant to capture the numerous results of a physical injury, aside from the injury itself. One easy example is a broken arm resulting from a car crash. The broken arm can be seen on an x-ray and can be healed through treatment, like a cast or even orthopedic surgery if severe. The pain caused by the fracture, however, is not so easy to see or treat. It is nonetheless real, and also harmful. Likewise, the suffering – such as the adjustments to a daily routine caused by an arm in a cast or the lack of sleep due to the pain, as just two examples – is also not so easy to see or treat. The American legal system, however, recognizes that these things are meaningful, and seeks to compensate an injured victim fully.

At the end of a jury trial, the jurors are generally “instructed” on the law by the judge. The trial judge will often describe compensation for pain and suffering along the lines of the following:

Such categories of “pain and suffering” damages include physical pain and discomfort, physical limitation or loss or restriction in the normal use of a body part, difficulty with normal activities of daily living arising from injury, and mental or emotional suffering, anxiety or worry.

Modern medicine certainly recognizes that pain is real. It is sometimes described as the “fifth vital sign” (in addition to pulse, respiratory rate, blood pressure and temperature) and numerous medical treatments are available to treat pain. Suffering is likewise real. Think of the turmoil in a person’s life caused by an injury that causes them to be bedridden, or to wonder if they will ever recover, or to worry that they will need yet another surgery. A serious personal injury has deep and long-lasting effects that ripple through a victim’s life in profound ways. Our laws seek to recognize that all of those effects should be considered in a lawsuit, and fully compensated when appropriate.

If you enjoy reading about important legal topics, please explore the other areas of our blog and our website. If you or a loved one has been an unfortunate victim of someone else’s carelessness – whether it is a vehicle accident, poor medical treatment, or unsafe conditions at a place of business or other activity – please contact the trial lawyers at Decof, Barry, Mega & Quinn in Providence, Rhode Island. We can help.