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Pain & Suffering: What It’s Worth

Mar 3, 2017 - Personal Injury by

personal injury law attorney in Charlotte North Carolina

If you have suffered a personal injury through the fault of another person or thing, you have a right to seek compensation for injury-related expenses (i.e., medical, property damage) and earnings loss (i.e., income replacement, loss of employment) from the liable person or entity.  These damages are usually called economic, or special, damages.  

Depending on the circumstances, you may also have a right to recover pain and suffering damages.  In North Carolina, pain and suffering damages fit into the category of noneconomic damages.  They are called non-economic damages because they are not subject to easy quantification and there is no set formula for determining the amount a jury may award for these damages.  In most injury cases these damages are not subject to any cap.  The one exception is for pain and suffering damages due to alleged medical negligence.  In medical malpractice cases North Carolina caps noneconomic damages.  This number is subject to adjustment for inflation every three (3) years, and is currently set at approximately $533,000.  This cap is applicable only in medical malpractice cases, and applies no matter how many plaintiffs or defendants there may be.  The only exception for receiving non-economic damages in excess of this cap is if there is disfigurement of certain kinds, loss of use of part of the body, permanent injury or death and the defendant’s conduct, which was the proximate cause of the injury, was reckless, grossly negligent, fraudulent, intentional, or malicious.

Determining the amount of the pain and suffering indemnity first involves evaluating your quality of life before and after and then quantifying it by using one of two methods.

NON-ECONOMIC DAMAGES: WHAT THEY ARE

Depending on the trauma and traumatic experience of a personal injury, a person’s well-being and health may never recover to its state prior to the accident.  No amount of money can fix the physical, mental, and emotional pain that accompanies certain kinds of injuries, nonetheless, non-economic damages are available to help compensate in whatever way they can.  There are several different types of non-economic damages, and these include the following:

  • Pain and Suffering.  This typical term actually refers to “physical pain” and “mental suffering.”  With many injuries, there is pain that accompanies the injury.  Pain and suffering damages are intended to compensate you for this pain, as well as any mental suffering that may be caused as a result of the physical pain or physical limitations caused by the injury. To establish proof of this type of non-economic damage, you can use the testimony of your doctor(s) or analysis of your medical records. 
  • Loss of Enjoyment.   With many injuries comes the loss of enjoying life as you once did.  This loss of enjoyment is the loss of partaking or performing certain activities in the present and the future, and it is a result of limitations that the injury (some permanent) placed on you.  For instance, you may have had a concussion and can’t play on your community volleyball team anymore, or you have chronic headaches that keep you from enjoying time with friends and family.  Overall, loss of enjoyment may include: bad health, not being able to play sports or other activities, decreased interest in social activities, among others.  Proof of loss of enjoyment requires strong personal and expert testimony.
  • Mental Anguish.  With more serious injuries come more complex non-economic damages.  Mental anguish damages are intended to compensate you for more abstract psychological distress that manifests in behaviors or mental illnesses from which you did not suffer before the injury occurred.  For instance, you may find you are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, general stress and anxiety, and in many cases, depression.  For mental anguish, establishing proof of the same in order to recover requires that you demonstrate (1) the severity; and (2) the duration of the symptoms.  Generally, the symptoms must be so severe that they interfere with your day-to-day life.  This type of damage extends beyond the “mental suffering” component of a pain and suffering damage, and often will require medical or psychological testimony as to the level of mental anguish and emotional distress.  
  • Permanent Impairment & Disfigurement.  Sometimes, personal injuries result in permanent physical impairment or disfigurement.  Understandably such a result is traumatic for the person and will incur serious physical, mental, emotional consequences.  For example, the injury may cause you to lose your ability to enjoy regular day-to-day activities, such as walking, bathing, or, among other activities, cooking.  Impairment and disfigurement damages are intended to compensate you for the loss of any of these abilities, and proving the damages will depend on medical records and testimony.  

QUALITY OF LIFE BEFORE & AFTER: THE ASSESSMENT

You know what your life was like prior to the accident, and you should memorialize it in your own narrative.  Now, after completion of medical treatment, what is your quality of life?  Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Do you have permanent damage, and how severe is it?
  • Do you have any obvious scars or deformities?
  • Do you have chronic pain?  
  • Have you lost your confidence?  
  • Are you more depressed than usual?  
  • Can you perform everyday tasks? 
  • Do you enjoy recreational activities like you once did?

Non-economic damages are meant to address this change in quality of life, which is your new reality.  You will want to have evidence, to the extent possible, to prove your pain and suffering.  The more evidence you have, the more damages you may be entitled to recover.  

Evaluation of pain and suffering damages, and other non-economic damages, is not an easy task, and there is no set method used in all cases.  Feel free to contact a dedicated personal injury lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina at Brown, Moore & Associates PLLC when you have a claim that the insurance company is not adequate assessing as it relates to these non-economic damages. We have the experience to calculate and attain non-economic damages, in addition to economic damages, that truly compensate you for your pain and suffering.