What is pain and suffering and how do you make sure you’re compensated fairly?
When a person is injured due to someone else’s careless or negligent actions, they can seek compensation for their medical expenses and lost wages under Arizona personal injury law.
But shouldn’t that person also receive some compensation for the pain and suffering they endure as a result of the injury?
In Arizona, the answer is an emphatic yes.
But while it’s easy to calculate the cost of medical treatment and lost wages, it’s much harder to put a price tag on a person’s pain and suffering.
This article looks at what exactly pain and suffering means, what factors impact an award for pain and suffering, and how insurance companies and lawyers attempt to put a number on pain and suffering.
Types of damages in Arizona
In Arizona, there are three types of damages:
- Economic damages (sometimes called “special damages”)
- Non-economic damages (sometimes called “general damages”)
- Punitive damages
Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant and are only awarded in those rare situations where the defendant acts with an “evil hand and mind.”
Economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for the monetary losses associated with their injuries. These damages are easy to calculate and include medical expenses and lost income.
Non-economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for the non-monetary losses associated with their injury. This is where pain and suffering—the most common non-economic damage—comes into play.
What is pain and suffering?
When a person is injured, they generally experience some degree of pain and suffering. There are two “kinds” of pain and suffering:
- Physical pain and suffering includes the physical pain associated with the plaintiff’s injuries (both up to the date of recovery and that which can be reasonably expected to continue into the future)
- Mental pain and suffering includes the emotional toll that an injury takes on the plaintiff (fear, humiliation, depression, anger, etc.)
An example of pain and suffering
Let’s look at an example of how a person might experience pain and suffering.
John is involved in a car accident on highway U.S. 93 just outside of Phoenix that results in several broken bones. It takes him 2 years to fully heal from the accident. During much of this time, he is bedridden and in extreme discomfort. On top of that, John is unable to participate in playing soccer with his friends—something he enjoyed prior to the accident. As a result, he becomes depressed and angry.
All of these problems (the physical discomfort, the depression, and the anger) constitute “pain and suffering” directly related to the accident and John would be entitled to compensation for these problems.
How does Arizona treat pain and suffering claims?
Pain and suffering are real. As a result, Arizona courts have a desire to provide some sort of compensation for pain and suffering, even though the monetary compensation won’t erase the pain and suffering from occurring in the first place.
The challenge is that it’s incredibly difficult to put a number on a person’s level of pain and suffering. As a result, courts look at several factors when trying to decide how much compensation should be awarded. These factors include:
- Type of injury
- Type of medication
- Length of recovery
- Permanence of the injury
Finally, an often overlooked factor is whether or not you’re a good witness. If a juror (in the case of a trial) or the opposing attorney (in the case of settlement negotiations) perceives you as a good witness, you’re more likely to receive the compensation you’re seeking.
What’s a good witness, you may be wondering? A good witness is a person that comes across as credible and sympathetic. The best way to ensure that you’re a good witness is to be honest with doctors, lawyers, judges and juries. A plaintiff who’s seen as deceptive or exaggerating their injuries is less likely to receive the compensation they’re seeking.
What documentation will you need to support your claim?
Because non-economic damages are so difficult to calculate, the best thing you can do for your case is provide concrete evidence of your pain and suffering. This evidence might include:
- The written opinion of a mental health professional addressing your state of mind before and after the injury
- Medical records referencing your pain and suffering
- Prescription history (particularly medications written for physical pain and mental anguish)
- Your testimony regarding your pain and suffering
- Testimony from your family, friends, and colleagues explaining the physical and mental toll the accident has taken on you
Arizona pain and suffering multiplier
Insurance companies and attorneys often calculate pain and suffering by using a multiplier between 1 and 5 (the more severe the injury, the higher the multiplier). This means that pain and suffering is calculated over and above medical expenses at that rate.
For example, let’s say you’re in a car accident and sustain a brain injury that results in $100,000 in medical expenses. Because a brain injury is considered a “severe” or “catastrophic” injury, it would receive a multiplier of 5. This would put the pain and suffering damages at $500,000.
This is, of course, only a starting point. The number can go up or down depending on the many individual factors that pertain to your case.
Have more questions? An experienced Arizona attorney can help you calculate your pain and suffering damages as well as gather the evidence you need to support your claim.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.