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Written by: Steven R. Clawson
| Read Time: 3 minutes

Sometimes on the news, you hear of someone being awarded a settlement for “pain and suffering.” What exactly does that mean? In a personal injury case, people are often compensated for their medical bills, lost wages, and other seemingly measurable damages. But pain and suffering may not seem so straightforward. What is pain and suffering and how is it calculated?


In a personal injury case, the first step is to prove the harm you received was due to someone else’s negligence. Once negligence has been established, you have to prove a financial loss to collect compensation.

There are different types of damages. One category is called special damages. These are also sometimes referred to as economic damages. These are the losses that are easy to put a set dollar amount on—like medical bills and lost wages. You have things like bills and receipts that make it easy to calculate an amount for your loss. It is easy for jurors to understand these losses and award accordingly. There is tangible evidence.

There are also damages that fit into a category called general damages. These are also sometimes called non-economic damages because they don’t easily have a set dollar amount attached to them. This is where pain and suffering fit in. There are no tangible bills or receipts to offer up as proof for the economic value of your losses. This can make it more of a challenge for jurors to understand these losses and award compensation for them.

Pain and Suffering

What sorts of things are included in pain and suffering? There is no all-inclusive list. Pain and suffering can be defined as any physical, mental, or emotional anguish resulting from an injury. This can include things like physical injuries, long- or short-term discomfort or pain, shortening of life, a loss of capacity to enjoy life as in the past, a lower quality of life, mental suffering (e.g. depression), and embarrassment from scarring or disfigurement.

Understandably, the amount sought for general damages, including pain and suffering, can be very subjective. It takes into account things like current and future medical bills for both physical and mental health treatment as well as other current and future costs associated with the life changes brought about because of the injury. When you seek compensation for pain and suffering, you are basically receiving financial compensation for having to go through things you wouldn’t have had to experience if not for the injury caused by someone’s negligence. A personal injury can change your life in countless ways, big and small, and pain and suffering damages are a way to have those changes recognized and compensated.

Is it fair?

Sometimes people have negative views on compensation for non-economic damages and view people seeking such compensation as selfish. But maybe people aren’t looking at the whole picture. Consider a hypothetical scenario. Imagine an avid cyclist who is hit by a distracted driver and left with an injury that will never allow her to climb onto a bicycle again. Having medical bills covered is one thing, but what about recognition that she will never be able to enjoy her favorite hobby again? What once brought her great joy is no longer a part of her life. She will likely feel that loss every time she sees a cyclist on the road. What seems unfair is for that loss to go unrecognized.

A good lawyer understands that your injury affects you in ways that go beyond the medical bills piling up and will help you to calculate even those non-economic losses. If you’ve been injured, contact us today for a free consultation. We can help you recoup your losses—whatever they may be.

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