Skip to main content

What is pain and suffering?

Most personal injury cases address pain and suffering, but you might still wonder “what is pain and suffering?” In short, they're the noneconomic damages in a personal injury case. There are two are kinds of pain and suffering: physical and mental.

This guide will help you understand these two types of pain and suffering, their symptoms, and how pain and suffering is measured, proven, and compensated.

Physical pain and suffering

Physical injuries are classified under physical pain and suffering. This refers both to current physical injuries and impairments, and to any long-lasting physical effects that are likely to be suffered in the future. Symptoms of physical pain and suffering may include, but are not limited to:

  • Broken bones
  • Concussions
  • Body aches or pains

Mental pain and suffering

Mental pain and suffering refers to psychological difficulties or negative emotions caused by an injury. It’s often a byproduct of the physical pain and suffering experienced. Symptoms of mental pain and suffering may include:

  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional distress
  • Fear
  • Grief
  • Anger
  • Humiliation or embarrassment
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

The link between physical and mental pain and suffering

There’s a close relationship between physical and mental pain and suffering. For example, it's not uncommon for physical injuries to lead to mental concerns, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or insomnia. The injured party will sometimes be referred to a therapist or psychologist to help manage psychological problems.

Since these problems resulted from their accident, the injured party may be entitled to pain and suffering damages for both their physical and mental symptoms.

Determining severity of pain and suffering

Severity of pain and suffering can be difficult to determine, as it’s often subjective. Some common factors considered include:

  • The type of injury or injuries sustained
  • The duration and severity of physical or emotional suffering
  • Any pre-existing conditions, if applicable
  • The potential for the injury or injuries to cause problems in the future
  • Any evidence that supports the injured party’s claims.

Individual circumstances also play a key role in determining severity of pain and suffering. For example, while a hand injury may merely inconvenience an office worker, that injury could end the career of a surgeon and cause greater emotional suffering.

Proving pain and suffering

As with all legal matters, lawyers must present evidence to a court to show a client has pain and suffering. This evidence may include records of therapy appointments, the therapist's professional testimony for mental pain and suffering, or medical records to support claims of physical pain and suffering.

According to attorney Zaheer A. Shah, simply showing you have received pain and suffering [is not enough from a legal standpoint. In addition, Shah states, "you must also be able to show that the person whom you wish to sue had a duty to not induce such harm and he [or she] breached it and that breach caused your harm and your pain and suffering."

Compensating for pain and suffering

The federal government does not limit on the amount of damages that an individual may receive for pain and suffering. However, many states impose their own restrictions on pain-and-suffering settlements. Some US states impose a monetary limit, such as $800,000 in damages. Others won’t allow compensation to exceed the injured person’s out-of-pocket expenses multiplied by a certain number, usually between 1.5 and 4.

A number of factors other may affect overall compensation. Many of these are the same factors used to determine the severity of pain and suffering, such as the type of injury or injuries sustained and the way these injuries will impact the injured person’s quality of life.

The injured party’s character may also impact compensation. A person of good character, who gives consistent testimony, and does not exaggerate injuries or symptoms is likely to receive greater compensation for pain and suffering.

Gaining legal representation can also help you get greater compensation. Attorney Andrew Daniel Myers, states that, according to the insurance industry's own statistics, "Once an attorney becomes involved, the value of any claim at least doubles."

Getting the right value for pain and suffering is often a challenge, as no direct monetary link between the incident and its symptoms exists. But with an attorney who has experience in personal injury cases, it’s often much easier to get adequate compensation for physical and mental impairments.

Avvo personal injury email series

Sign up to receive a 3-part series of useful information and advice about personal injury law.

Recommended articles about Personal injury

Can’t find what you’re looking for?


Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer