Under most circumstances, people who are wrongfully injured by others are entitled to receive “compensatory damages” from the wrongdoer. In an injury case, “compensatory damages” refers to an amount of money paid to compensate an injured person for the harms and losses caused by an injury. Compensatory damages can be further broken down into two types: special damages and general damages.
Special damages are paid to cover economic losses such as medical expenses and lost income. These damages are usually easy to calculate. To determine the amount of special damages for medical expenses, simply add up the bills related to medical treatment for the injury in question. Similarly, lost wages are the measure of income that the injured person would have received if not for the injury.
On the other hand, general damages cover the non-economic consequences of an injury. General damages are meant to compensate an injured person for harms and losses such as: pain and suffering; mental or emotional distress; disfigurement, and; loss of enjoyment for life. Because general damages are not linked to a specific type of charge or payment, these damages are not given to precise mathematical calculations.
So how do you place a value on non-economic harms and losses such as pain and suffering? Historically, pain and suffering damages were often calculated as a multiple of an injured person’s total medical expenses. Specifically, many attorneys used to multiply the total amount of medical expenses by 15 to arrive at a rough estimate of the value of total damages. So, using this “multiplier method,” an injured person with $50,000 in total medical bills would expect to receive about $750,000 in total compensatory damages. Of course, injuries that are either minor or severe could call for a lower or higher multiplier.
Alternatively, others have used a “per diem” method in which they assign a daily rate for pain and suffering and then multiply that rate by the number of days that the injured person experienced pain and suffering. Like the “multiplier method,” the “per diem” approach is subjective and varies from case to case.
But, at the trial of an injury case, the jury is not required to use any specific method of calculating pain and suffering. Juries often take several factors into consideration when determining the amount of pain and suffering damages to award to an injured plaintiff. For example, the trial judge in Food Lion, Inc. v. Williams instructed the jury to consider the following factors:
- interference with normal living,
- interference with enjoyment of life,
- loss of capacity to labor and earn money,
- impairment of bodily health and vigor,
- the fear of extent of injury,
- shock of impact,
- actual pain and suffering, past and future,
- mental anguish, past and future, and
- whether the plaintiff must limit activities.
An injury does not start and stop when an injured person walks in or out of a hospital or doctor’s office. Oftentimes, medical bills do not come close to demonstrating the effects of an injury on someone’s life. Sometimes, even the injured person is unaware of all the harmful effects that an injury has had, or will have, on his or her life.
To ensure that an injured client receives fair compensation for his or her pain and suffering, a personal injury attorney will show a jury all the ways in which the injury has affected the client’s quality of life – physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, professionally, and so on. If you have been wrongfully injured, contacting a personal injury attorney is a good first step toward receiving total compensation for all the harms and losses caused by your injury.