What Does 'Pain and Suffering' Mean in a Personal Injury Case? | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Descriptions of settlements or court awards to plaintiffs in personal cases often include a mention of “pain and suffering.” You surely understand both concepts and can see how any negligent or reckless act that inflicts injuries would cause both.https://pixabay.com/en/widow-alone-ring-hand-finger-813615/

But what does pain and suffering mean in a legal sense? The explanation requires a brief discussion of the types of monetary compensation and damages a plaintiff can claim. These fall into the three categories of economic damages, noneconomic damages and, in specific cases, punitive damages.


Economic damages reflect the direct costs of recovering from an injury. Medical bills, prescription medications, physical therapy and wages lost while out of work fall into the category of economic damages. Figuring out what a personal injury victim is owed is as straightforward as adding up costs to date and estimating costs into the future.

Punitive damages are noncriminal fines that a jury imposes as punishment for recklessness or willful and wanton behavior. They are sometimes called exemplary damages because they are meant to serve as an example of what can happen to others who harm people.

In Virginia, punitive damages most often come into play when a drunk driver permanently disables or kills someone. Companies also are made to pay punitive damages when they continue making and selling products despite having ample evidence that the products pose serious dangers. Covering up the dangers or outright denying that the dangers exist when company executives know they are producing or marketing a harmful product can make the company liable for paying punitive damages. Except in medical malpractice cases, juries in Virginia can award any amount of punitive damages.

Pain and suffering constitutes the third category of noneconomic damages. No one can put an exact cash value on physical discomfort or depression, but the negative effects are usually plainly evident. Making someone else experience pain and suffering is something a negligent or reckless person or company should pay for.

Standard instructions given to Virginia civil trial juries explain that juries can award damages to a plaintiff for any physical pain and mental anguish the plaintiff suffered in the past and any pain and anguish the plaintiff may reasonably be expected to suffer in the future. Related damages can also be rewarded for any past and future inconvenience.

Doctors, mental health professionals, family members and the plaintiff can all present evidence and testimony regarding pain, emotional suffering and inconvenience. Insurance company representatives and defense lawyers will contest much of this, but a dedicated and understanding Virginia personal injury lawyer will fight for the settlement or jury award his client deserves.

A Virginia beach personal injury lawyer will also help a plaintiff or the plaintiff’s family determine the proper amount of noneconomic damages to request in light of the facts of the case. One of the most important jobs for a personal injury attorney is to help an injured person calculate the value of harms that are real but do not carry clear price tags.