Understanding pain and suffering damages in the Montana courts
If you’ve been injured in Montana and you’re considering whether a personal injury lawsuit is your best course of action, part of your thought process might be how much compensation you might qualify for and what kinds of damages you’d recover. Assessing damages is a crucial early step in the lawsuit process, and each state has specific laws regarding how they are calculated and awarded.
First, you should know that there are three types of damages:
- Economic damages: These damages are awarded as compensation for losses that have financial value. This includes medical treatment, lost wages, future lost earnings or business prospects, loss of property, or other items that have an actual value that can be calculated.
- Non-economic damages: Non-economic damages are those that don’t have a specific “price tag” attached, including pain and suffering or emotional distress.
- Punitive damages: The court might award punitive damages in a special circumstance when the defendant’s actions were particularly reckless, with actual malice, or so far afield of how a reasonable person would behave that the court wishes to punish the defendant through restitution to the plaintiff.
What is pain and suffering?
Any injury likely comes with some degree of pain and suffering, but the question is whether it’s to the level that the court would decide is necessary to be awarded financial damages.
If you were harmed by another person, whether in a car accident, a slip and fall accident caused by their negligence, or in some other way, it’s likely that in addition to whatever medical treatment is required, the incident caused stress or other trauma.
Below are some examples of physical and emotional issues that could fall under the category of pain and suffering:
|Physical pain||Emotional suffering|
|Aches||Fear, worry, anxiety|
|Temporary or permanent limitations on activity||Insomnia|
|Potential for reduced life expectancy||Grief, depression|
|Other physical pain||Loss of enjoyment of life|
In order to determine whether you’re experiencing pain and suffering that warrants damage recovery, the court might ask questions like:
- Does the injury change or limit your daily lifestyle?
- What effect does the injury have on your personal or professional relationships?
- Does the injury affect your sleep or create other wellness or fitness issues?
- How long are the effects of this injury likely to last?
Using the multiplier method to calculate pain and suffering damages
If it’s determined that you’ve suffered enough pain and trauma that you’re entitled to relief, the next question is how much? Calculating what feelings and emotions are worth is tricky. That’s why personal injury lawyers, insurance companies and courts use a “multiplier method.”
First, they’ll calculate how much you’re owed for your economic damages. Second, they’ll determine how many times that figure should be multiplied to equal your pain and suffering amount.
Here’s how it works:
Let’s say your economic damages will be multiplied by a number between 1.5 and 5. Your attorney will tell you what the appropriate multiplier is based on the severity of your injury. In other words, if your injury is not terribly severe and you’re anticipated to make a full recovery, you might multiply economic damages by 1.5 or 2 to account for pain and suffering. But if your injury was very serious and involves many years of recuperation, life changes, and the potential that you might not ever fully recover, your multiplier would be 5 or even higher.
Example of how to calculate pain and suffering in Montana
Imagine this scenario:
You were in a car crash and the other driver was 100% at fault. Your injuries left you permanently disabled, requiring the use of a wheelchair, and unable to return to your job as a construction worker because you’re no longer physically capable of that kind of work.
Your total cost of damages might break down as follows:
(includes several surgeries, rehabilitation, prescription medications for pain and infection control, ongoing physical therapy, and additional expenses)
|Loss of wages:
(time lost from work, plus loss of future wages)
(cost of wheelchair, adaptive construction to your home and vehicle)
|Home health aide:
(in-home 24-hour aide to help with activities of daily life)
|Total for economic damages:||$7,450,000|
|Pain and suffering:
(physical pain, anxiety, insomnia, depression, suicidal thoughts)
|($7,450,000 x 5)|
|Total for economic damages AND pain and suffering:||$44,700,000|
Again, this is a hypothetical situation and not necessarily how a real-life case would play out. But it gives you an idea of how a lawyer would begin to determine what the total cost of damages might be.
Limits on pain and suffering damages
Some states have a damage cap on non-economic damages, which means they limit the amount that a plaintiff can recover. In Montana, this is only for medical malpractice lawsuits. In a medical malpractice claim, you can only recover non-economic damages up to $250,000.
Talking to your lawyer about pain and suffering
When you meet your personal injury lawyer for the first time, it’s important to be up front about the pain and suffering you’re experiencing. It might be hard to talk about or raise deeply personal issues that you don’t want to share, but it could be helpful to your case.
Finding the right lawyer for you is essential, too. An experienced Montana personal injury lawyer is only a phone call away, and they can help you get what you need to recover what you deserve.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.