Pain and Suffering Damages in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Pain and suffering damages in California are the compensation plaintiffs could receive in certain personal injury lawsuits due to the mental anguish and physical pain they suffer due to an injury.
These are a form of compensatory damages that are in a category of “non-economic damages” that also include other damages such as loss of enjoyment of life and loss of consortium.
Readers should note there is not an established set standard that a jury or judge can use to calculate a pain and suffering award.
Rather, a plaintiff will typically present evidence of physical pain and emotional trauma and a decision is made on a “reasonable” amount of money for the damages.
Frequently, to assist them in estimating pain and suffering losses, a multiplier method is used by the plaintiff's lawyer, which is a number between 1 and 5, with the more severe suffering represented by a higher number.
For example, a higher multiplier is used in personal injury cases involving long-term medical care, severe injuries with broken bones, a substantially reduced quality of life, and lost wages due to a disability. The multiplier method is discussed further below.
California law doesn't impose a damage cap in most personal injury claims involving pain and suffering and other economic damages.
A broken limb, emotional trauma, the pain of recovery, or diminished quality of life. You've experienced pain and suffering after a personal injury, and it's still affecting how you and your loved ones can move past the event.
You may have options for recovering non-economic damages. This page from our California personal injury lawyers will provide an overview of the law and what you need to do to feel in control of your current frustrating situation.
What is Pain and Suffering Under California Law?
The term "pain and suffering" and "non-economic damages" are often used interchangeably. Economic damages after an injury, such as lost wages or medical expenses, can be easier to quantify.
Pain and suffering may be less quantifiable. They include experiences, losses, or inconveniences such as:
- Psychological trauma,
- Emotional distress,
- Loss of organ or limb,
- Loss of enjoyment of life,
- Inability to engage in pleasurable activities,
- Loss of family.
Importantly, various types of emotional distress, ranging from embarrassment, fear, crying, lack of sleep, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), humiliation, and extreme trauma do “count” as pain and suffering under California law.
Claimants can even work towards compensation for emotional distress if they don't have a corresponding injury.
The confusion often arising from a plaintiff's motion to pursue compensation for these less-quantifiable losses has resulted in the creation of California laws to guide pain and suffering claims.
What Are the Relevant Regulations?
Under state law, plaintiffs can ask for pain and suffering compensation as non-economic damage. As noted, California law does not provide a fixed standard for determining these damages.
In the state's civil and criminal codes, we can find the following related legislation:
- California Civil Code 3333.4: This language restricts pain and suffering damages that relate to the use of a motor vehicle - e.g., if you're a driver convicted of DUI in the event or uninsured vehicle owner;
- California Civil Code 3333.3: This language prohibits pain and suffering damages for people whose suffering stems from an injury that happened while they were committing or running from committing a felony;
- California Penal Code Part 1, Title 8, Chapter 2  defines the legal concept of torture as a crime. It also notes that the victim does not need proof that they suffered pain to demonstrate that this crime occurred.
As noted, in California, there is no cap on the amount you can recover for non-economic damages.
However, there is the sole exception of medical malpractice claims as there is a $250,000 cap on non-economic medical malpractice damages.
To initiate your claim, you will need to move to calculate the damages associated with your pain and suffering.
How Do I Calculate California Pain and Suffering Damages?
To move forward with your claim, you need to demonstrate the extent of your emotional distress or physical injuries.
The court will then draw upon its experience to decide a reasonable financial amount for damages.
Demonstrating non-economic damages can be tricky, as they are often subjective losses. You need to provide objective evidence. To assist the court with its calculations, you may need to show:
- Test results, such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans;
- Doctor or therapist notes;
- Medical records and bills showing the extent of treatment;
- Before-and-after pictures or videos showing diminished activity levels or quality of life;
- Photos of property damages and physical injuries;
- Testimony from friends, co-workers, family members, witnesses;
- Expert testimony related to suffering, brain injuries, lost earning capacity.
If you lack this type of evidence that directly links to your pain and suffering, your personal injury lawyer may be able to show indirect cause from the evidence you do have to your pain and suffering claim.
Pain and Suffering Multiplier
In California, what is the pain and suffering multiplier method of calculating non-economic damages?
With the multiplier method, the interested parties will start by adding together all of the various economic, or more objective, damages involved in a case.
For example, in a personal injury case such as an auto accident, these might be medical and car bills with receipts and specific dollar figures.
To account for the more subjective damages, the interested party would multiply that figure by a number.
This number is typically between one and five and depends on how serious the central personal injury is.
For example, a painful but less serious injury like a broken limb might only merit a low multiplier, such as 1 or 2. On the other end of the scale, death or disfigurement could result in a multiplier of 4 or 5.
Your attorney may alternatively recommend the per diem method of calculating pain and suffering, which seeks to create a daily monetary amount that the victim would be receiving or enjoying were it not for their pain and suffering.
For example, attorneys and the insurance company will attempt to calculate a specific dollar amount for each day the plaintiff experiences pain and suffering due to the accident.
The daily rate is frequently calculated by using the victim's daily earnings before the accident.
If you were injured in an accident due to the negligence of others, then you could be entitled to full financial compensation.
Injury Justice Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County and serves victims throughout Southern California. Contact us for a free case consultation at (818) 781-1570, or fill out our contact form here.