Pain and Suffering Damages

What exactly is “pain and suffering”?  It’s a category of damages that can be awarded following a civil wrong that results in an injury.  According to an article in the Northwestern University Law Review, damages for pain and suffering make up approximately 50 percent of the damage awards in personal injury cases.

Many times, these injuries arise from accidents.  When an accident happens, you can file a civil claim for damages to compensate you in a variety of ways for any injuries you’ve incurred.

“Pain and suffering” is just one of the types of damages available following an accident, alongside other damages that include loss of earnings capacity and reasonable medical expenses.  These damages account for “both present and future expected losses.”  

Unlike these other categories of damages, however, pain and suffering is often hotly disputed because it doesn’t have a clear dollar amount in the same way that a loss of earnings capacity or reasonable medical expenses might.  Pain and suffering damages are monetary, meaning you get compensation with money, yet they’re not economic damages since they’re not based on any specific economic loss you’ve endured.

Using the example of a car accident, assume that you have a job that requires the use of your hands.  You’re in a serious car accident after another vehicle illegally runs a red light.  As a result of an injury sustained in the crash, you lose the use of your hands on a temporary (and possibly permanent) basis.  You want to sue the other driver for damages.  What damages are available to you?

You have a number of medical bills that total $30,000.  This is an economic damage, since you have a specific amount that you paid for your medical bills that you want to recover.  To recoup this money, you’d seek recovery for reasonable medical expenses.

Next, you’re unable to work, at least for now, since you’ve lost the use of your hands.  You are entitled to lost wages both past and future.  Since these damages also have a specific monetary amount, their estimation is pretty straightforward.  

Lost wages and medical expenses are both fairly concrete in nature.  Pain and suffering is much different.  However, it is no less real and only those folks that have never suffered serious injuries will argue otherwise.  Moreover, those same folks often change their tune when they or their loved ones suffer serious personal injuries.  

Under the law of New Mexico, you are entitled to the recovery of pain and suffering damages, both past and future.   New Mexico Uniform Jury Instruction 13-1807 allows recovery for pain and suffering as follows:   “The pain and suffering experienced [and reasonably certain to be experienced in the future] as a result of the injury.”

You are entitled to recover for pain and suffering and you should seek those damages.  Getting back to the example, this person may, depending on the severity of his injuries, suffer enormous pain associated with his injuries, the treatment, surgeries, rehab and physical therapy.  If the injuries are permanent in some degree or another, the pain might also be permanent since after all he must use those same hands for work, and he should be compensated for that.  

Proving pain and suffering damages might be somewhat challenging.  However, it must be done.  You are entitled to those damages.  At the same time, your expectations should be reasonable.  There is a myth of the massive payday on trivial injuries for pain and suffering.  Although there is no such mythical payday, true pain and suffering should be compensated.  

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