Can You Sue for Pain and Suffering in Pennsylvania? Legal Considerations


Pennsylvania law gives you the right to pursue compensation from someone who negligently or intentionally injures you. Whether you were injured in a car crash, slip and fall accident, by a defective product, or because of a doctor’s medical errors, you might have grounds to file a lawsuit to recover compensation.

Through a personal injury lawsuit, you can recover damages for economic losses you have suffered, including your medical bills, property damage, or income losses. Can you file a lawsuit to recover compensation for more intangible losses, such as pain and suffering? Here’s what to know about pain and suffering claims in Pennsylvania from the personal injury lawyers in Pennsylvania at the law firm of Raynes & Lawn.

Suing for Pain and Suffering in PA

Pennsylvania tort law allows negligence victims to file lawsuits for economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are also known as special damages and are the pecuniary losses you have suffered because of the negligent actions of another person or business entity. Most personal injury lawsuits include claims for economic damages.

Some common examples of economic damages that might be recoverable in a personal injury lawsuit include the following:

  • Property losses (damage to a vehicle in a car accident, etc.)
  • Medical costs to treat accident-related injuries
  • Costs of future care you might need
  • Income losses caused by missing work because of your injuries
  • Rehabilitation costs
  • Home modifications if you suffered disabling injuries
  • Other out-of-pocket expenses

Economic damages are fairly easy to understand and calculate since they are the pecuniary losses you have suffered.

In addition to your economic losses, you can also pursue compensation for pain and suffering or non-economic damages. Here’s what to know about suing for pain and suffering in PA.

Non-Economic (General) Damages

Non-economic damages are the second category of compensatory damages and are known as general damages. These are damages for the intangible losses you have suffered and do not have a precise financial value. Because of this, they are more difficult to calculate. When you are pursuing pain and suffering damages in a personal injury lawsuit, this means you are asking for compensation for the subjective losses you have suffered because of the defendant’s intentional or negligent conduct.
The following are some common examples of pain and suffering or general damages that might be recoverable in a personal injury lawsuit in Pennsylvania:

  • Physical pain
  • Mental anguish
  • Scarring and physical disfigurement
  • Loss of the enjoyment of life
  • Shame and humiliation
  • Disability
  • Loss of consortium for a spouse

Accidents affect people in different ways, and it can be difficult to understand the specific impacts a person might experience because of their injuries. Since pain and suffering damages do not have a precise financial value, they are hard to calculate and place a monetary value on.

How Does the Law Define Pain and Suffering?

If you were injured in an accident by someone else, you might be entitled to recover compensation for both your economic and non-economic losses, including pain and suffering. This is a legal term that describes the physical and psychological pain and distress you suffer because of your injuries. Anyone who causes someone else to experience pain and suffering because of negligent or intentional acts could be liable to pay damages in a lawsuit. However, the legal definition of pain and suffering is broad, which makes it harder to prove than economic damages.

Personal Injury Lawsuits and Pain and Suffering Damages

The pain and suffering damages a plaintiff might be entitled to receive will depend on their unique circumstances and how they have been affected by their injuries. It can be difficult to show the jury how severe your pain and suffering are and how your life has been impacted.

There are several things you can do to help prove the pain and suffering you have suffered. First, make sure to see a medical doctor and continue to keep all of your appointments. If you never sought medical care, the insurance company and jury will likely assume you didn’t experience pain and you were uninjured. Failing to see a doctor will make it very difficult to recover any compensation in your case.

Keep a daily journal following your accident in which you document how your injuries affect your daily life. If you can no longer participate in activities you used to enjoy, write about it. Be honest in your journal and rate your pain, but do not exaggerate. You can bring your journal with you to your medical appointments to give your doctor some information about how your injuries affect you. This can help your doctor to determine whether the treatment you are receiving is working or if some adjustments need to be made to your treatment plan.

A pain journal can also be helpful in your personal injury lawsuit. By creating a picture of how your injuries have affected your daily life, you can tell a compelling story to the insurance company or jury. This can help them understand how your life has changed and why you should be awarded pain and suffering damages.

Factors Considered When Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages

Several factors will be important when your attorney, the insurance company, or a potential jury calculates pain and suffering damages, including the following:

  • Your age – If you are younger and suffered a severe injury that will affect you for years, you are likelier to receive a larger award for pain and suffering because your injury will affect you for longer than it would for an older person. An insurance company is also likelier to offer a younger person a larger pain and suffering settlement than an older adult.
  • The severity of your physical injuries – If you suffered serious injuries that are likely to affect you for years or for the rest of your life, you are likelier to recover significant pain and suffering damages.
  • Whether your injuries are permanent or temporary – Temporary, minor injuries that you recover from in a few weeks to months are less likely to result in a large pain and suffering award from a jury or a large settlement from an insurance company. Permanent injuries that will continue to affect you for the rest of your life will likely result in a substantial award or settlement offer.
  • Whether your injuries affect your ability to perform routine activities
  • Your medical treatment
  • The pain you have experienced – If you suffered severe pain at the time of your accident, and your pain is chronic, you will likely receive pain and suffering damages if you win your case.
  • Any psychological trauma or mental distress you have experienced
  • Your health before your accident – If you had great health and an active lifestyle before your accident but now have greatly diminished health because of your accident, you might receive a larger pain and suffering settlement offer.
  • Whether you have been disfigured and the severity of any disfigurement

These factors differ between plaintiffs, so how much your pain and suffering damages might be worth will depend on the facts of your unique situation.

How Do Insurance Companies and Attorneys Calculate Pain and Suffering?

There are a few different methods insurance companies might use to calculate pain and suffering damages, including using a multiplier, a per diem value, or a hybrid approach. Your injury attorney will not rely on the insurance company’s calculation but will instead value your damages separately.

When insurance companies and personal injury lawyers in Pennsylvania calculate pain and suffering damages with the multiplier method, they will choose a number between one and five based on the severity of your injuries. This number will be multiplied by the total economic damages you suffered, including your medical bills and any wage losses you suffered. A higher number will be used if your injuries are severe, and a lower number will be used if your injuries are minor.

For example, if the insurance company believes your injuries are relatively minor, it might choose a multiplier of one. If your total economic damages amount to $25,000, the insurance company will multiply that by one to arrive at a calculation of $25,000 for pain and suffering damages. This means the insurance company would offer $50,000 to settle your case.

However, if your injuries are severe and expected to last for a long time, the insurance company might choose a higher multiplier. If you suffered $50,000 in economic damages, and the insurance company chooses a multiplier of four, this means it would calculate your pain and suffering damages as valued at $200,000 for a total offer of $250,000.

Many insurance companies use lower multipliers than attorneys do. For example, an insurance company might argue that your injuries are less severe than they are and choose a multiplier of two. Your attorney might instead choose a multiplier of four. They will then use your medical records, expenses, daily pain journal, photographs, and other evidence to support your claim for higher pain and suffering damages.

The per diem method is not used as often as the multiplier method, but some insurance companies might use it in cases involving more minor injuries. In this approach, the insurance company will determine a set rate for every day after your accident until you reach maximum medical recovery. For example, if the insurance company chooses a daily rate of $150, and it takes you 200 days to recover, your pain and suffering damages would be valued at $30,000.

Setting a reasonable daily rate can be difficult. If the insurance company uses this method, your lawyer will ask that your daily rate is the same amount you normally would earn per day at your job. This method is not used by insurance companies to calculate pain and suffering damages for injuries that take a long time to recover from because doing so could result in a higher pain and suffering value than the multiplier method.

Insurance companies might use a combined multiplier and per diem method in some cases and then adjust the value based on the facts of the accident. Some insurers don’t use any of these methods and instead rely on algorithms to calculate the value of pain and suffering damages. The algorithm might factor in your total medical expenses, the types of medical treatment you will likely need in the future, and how long it might take for you to complete treatment.

Evidence to Prove Pain and Suffering Damages

As the plaintiff, you will have the burden of proof for every element of your negligence claim, including damages. The elements of a negligence cause of action include the following:

  • The defendant’s duty of care
  • Breach of the duty of care
  • Causation of your injuries because of the breach
  • Calculable damages

You must present enough evidence to prove each of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence, and your pain and suffering damages are a part of the damages element.

You’ll need to submit evidence at trial to prove pain and suffering damages. Some examples of the types of evidence that might be used include the following:

  • Daily pain journal that describes your pain and injuries and how they have affected your daily life
  • Medical records showing the severity and extent of your injuries
  • Testimony by experts about how your injuries affect you and will continue to impact your life
  • Testimony from others who know you about how your life has changed since your accident and how your ability to engage in activities you once enjoyed has been affected
  • Photographs of your injuries

The jury will use the evidence you present together with the previously listed factors to determine how much money to award you for pain and suffering. Your pain and suffering damages will be in addition to the value of your economic damages if you win your lawsuit.

Can You Sue for Pain and Suffering if You Didn’t Suffer Physical Injuries?

In most cases, you won’t have a viable claim for pain and suffering damages if you didn’t suffer any physical injuries. However, there are some situations in which you might be able to pursue a claim for emotional distress damages without physical injuries.

For example, if you witnessed your loved one’s death in a horrific accident, you might be able to file a claim for emotional distress damages. In those types of cases, you’ll still typically need to present evidence to prove the trauma you suffered. For example, if you have regularly attended appointments with a therapist and psychiatrist to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) you acquired after witnessing a terrible accident in which your loved one died, you could present your treatment records and testimony from experts about the trauma you have experienced. An experienced PA personal injury attorney can review your case and explain whether you have grounds to pursue a claim.

Understanding Mental Anguish Damages

Some people suffer mental anguish or psychological trauma following an accident. You might develop mental health issues such as PTSD, phobias about engaging in certain activities such as driving, or experience humiliation about your appearance following an accident.

In extreme cases in which a defendant has acted intentionally, a plaintiff can sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, not all behavior will qualify for this particular cause of action. However, when a defendant’s conduct is outrageous enough to cause you to experience serious emotional distress, you might file a claim against the defendant for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In negligence cases, some people might be able to recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress. This might occur if you witnessed your loved one’s serious injuries in a car accident caused by a negligent driver and subsequently developed PTSD as described in the previous example. Your attorney can explain whether you might have a claim for mental or emotional anguish. As previously mentioned, you’ll likely need to present evidence of physical injuries in addition to your emotional injuries to recover compensation, however.

Does Pennsylvania Place Limits on Pain and Suffering Damages?

In some states, there is a cap on how much plaintiffs can recover for pain and suffering damages. While Pennsylvania doesn’t cap compensatory damages generally, it does limit how much you can recover for pain and suffering if the defendant is the government. Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 8528, Pennsylvania sets a total cap of $1 million per claim against the government when multiple plaintiffs are involved or no more than $250,000 for one plaintiff. If you file a claim against a municipality, the total amount that can be awarded in aggregate is $500,000.

Separately from pain and suffering damages, you might also face a cap on any punitive damages a jury might award in your case. Punitive damages are separate from compensatory damages and might be awarded by juries when a defendant’s conduct was egregious. This means that punitive damages won’t be available in every case.

For example, if you were permanently paralyzed in an accident caused by a drunk driver who was speeding at the time of your accident, punitive damages might be awarded. By contrast, if you were injured in a rear-end collision because the other driver wasn’t watching traffic as carefully as they should, punitive damages won’t likely be available.

If punitive damages are available in your case, they are capped at no more than twice the total value of your compensatory damages under 40 Pa.C.S. § 1303.505. For example, if your total compensatory damages (your economic damages plus your pain and suffering damages) are calculated at $700,000 by the jury, any punitive damages could not be more than $1.4 million.

Be Mindful of the Statute of Limitations

Every state has established statutes of limitations, which are laws that set deadlines for filing different types of legal claims. The personal injury statute of limitation is found at 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524. Under this law, you must file a personal injury claim within two years from the date of your accident. While there are some exceptions, this is the general statute of limitations for personal injury claims, including those seeking pain and suffering damages.

One exception to the statute of limitations is when the victim is a minor at the time of the accident. If you were younger than 18, the statute of limitations would be temporarily tolled until you turn 18. At that time, the clock would begin to run, and you would then have until your 20th birthday to file a lawsuit. In many cases, the parents of minors who are injured in accidents file lawsuits on behalf of their minor children. However, if your parents did not, you can file a claim once you turn 18.

Claims against the government have a shorter deadline. If the defendant in your case was employed by the government and caused your accident while they were on the job, you would file a claim against the state. In that situation, you must act quickly, You only have six months to file a claim with the governmental agency. If you don’t, your ability to pursue a claim for compensation will be barred. Missing the statute of limitations means you will not be able to pursue legal remedies for your losses.

Consult a PA Personal Injury Attorney

If your accident has caused you to experience chronic pain and caused upheaval in your life, you might be able to pursue pain and suffering damages in addition to damages for your economic losses. When you speak with an attorney at the law firm of Raynes & Lawn, we can analyze your case and explain the different types of damages that might be available. Contact us today for a free consultation by calling 1-800-535-1797.


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