The results of an accident of any kind are often painful. This article explains how the law considers the concept of pain and suffering.
Most people are familiar with the term “pain and suffering” as it relates to an accident or other type of lawsuit. The phrase is general enough to imply a wide range of interpretations about what pain and suffering is and within the context of a lawsuit, how it is valued.
Lawyers on the other hand think about pain and suffering in a very precise and quantifiable way, insofar at least as the law is concerned. Clearly it is not possible to know how much an individual is suffering from pain and from the emotional trauma of dealing with that pain.
But in order to successfully try cases that include damages for pain and suffering, the legal system uses laws, accepted concepts, and established precedents to ensure that everybody in a lawsuit is treated fairly. Every state is different in how pain and suffering is calculated and how it can be litigated.
This article will briefly explain the underlying concepts and precedents that come into play when pain and suffering enters into a law suit.
Legal Pain and Suffering
From a legal perspective, the term pain and suffering refers to the results of an accident experienced by an individual that was caused by another individual. The term refers to both the physical injuries that were incurred and the discomfort directly associated with those injuries. But pain and suffering doesn’t stop there.
In addition to the physical ramifications of an accident, a victim also typically sustains mental anguish as well, which can manifest in many ways. Anger, insomnia, loss of appetite, depression and even post traumatic stress syndrome can all occur as a result of an accident and can all be considered to be a part of pain and suffering in a legal sense.
Furthermore, pain and suffering does not just refer to what has already been experienced. Since the effects of most accidents, particularly severe or debilitating events, will continue well into the future, the concept of pain and suffering covers not only what has already happened as the result of the accident, but what is likely to happen over time as well.
In Pennsylvania, there is a two-year statute of limitations on pain and suffering. In other words, you have two years from the date of the accident or injury to file your claim in PA. However, if you are filing a claim against a Pennsylvania city or county, or against the state itself, you only have 6 months.
This is an important consideration because if you fail to file within the statute of limitations, the court will most likely refuse to hear your case.
No Fault vs. Shared Fault
Because Pennsylvania is a “no-fault” insurance state, you cannot sue another driver if you are in a car accident unless you suffer a serious injury. Because what defines a serious injury is somewhat vague, the services of a qualified personal injury lawyer are important to successfully winning a suit.
In other situations, Pennsylvania employs what is legally known as “modified comparative negligence.” The concept is simple: if you are partially responsible for a situation that caused you injury, in Pennsylvania your claim will be reduced by the estimated percentage of your liability.
So if you were to win an award of $100,000 but were 20% to blame for the accident that caused your injury, your award would be reduced by 20% and you would wind up with $80,000. Again, since the determination of your percentage of responsibility is so subjective, working with a lawyer who specializes in personal injury litigation is crucial.
Example of Shared Fault
Let’s say that you were struck by an oncoming vehicle that crossed the center line of the road you were traveling on. In court, the other driver admitted hitting you but claimed that you failed to dim your high beams and he was temporarily blinded.
The jury finds that although the other driver is responsible for the accident, you are also partially to blame because you did not dim your lights. The jury decides that because of this, you are responsible for 20% of the accident. As we saw previously, in Pennsylvania this means that your monetary award will be reduced by 20%.
Pennsylvania law also stipulates that if you are ultimately found responsible for 50% of the accident, you cannot collect anything from other parties who were also at fault.
Here is where experienced legal representation comes into play. Obviously, it is difficult for a jury to determine a person’s percentage of responsibility for an accident. To a large extent, this decision will be based on the effectiveness of the legal arguments made in court. A lawyer must therefore have a detailed understanding of how the Pennsylvania modified comparative negligence laws work, and must be able to present a compelling argument in accordance with those laws.
A Practiced Approach to the Value of Pain and Suffering
If you have been injured in an accident or by the carelessness of someone else, the first step in seeking payment for pain and suffering is to consult a lawyer. The rules regarding pain and suffering vary from state to state and most courts have adopted standards that apply to the determination of how the costs are calculated.
In some states, the law establishes a maximum amount that can be claimed for pain and suffering, regardless of the cause or the circumstances. Generally, a number of different factors are considered such as the type and severity of the injury, the intensity of the pain, the impact of the injury on the plaintiffs lifestyle, potential future problems from the injury and the evidence presented.
It is not uncommon for the law to require that the actual economic damages awarded serve as a basis for calculating the award for pain and suffering. A multiple is then used to determine the award for pain and suffering. As an example, if damages of $400,000 were awarded and the multiple for pain and suffering was three, the pain and suffering award would be $1,200,000.
Seek Legal Help
Personal injury law is complex. If you have been involved in an accident and feel that you have been subjected to pain and suffering as a result of it, contact the legal experts at Donaghue & Labrum. We can help you to determine the merits of your case and provide sound legal advice on how to proceed.