You may have heard the term “pain and suffering” before. The meaning seems obvious, but you should understand that it has a particular connotation in court. Pain and suffering in a courtroom usually means what someone experienced if they bring a personal injury lawsuit against another person or entity.
Someone can do this with a lawyer’s help. If they bring a personal injury lawsuit, maybe they’re doing it because a doctor harmed them, and they’re alleging that medical malpractice occurred. A car wreck may bring a lawsuit of this nature. A construction site accident, dog bite, or slip and fall in a store or on a sidewalk may apply.
Many negligence claims have two-year limitation statutes, though this depends on the state where the incident occurred. This means someone who believes another person or entity harmed them must file a lawsuit within the appointed time. Otherwise, they can’t get the money they think they should receive.
Courtroom dramas can play out in various ways, and often, the defendant will settle if they think they’re going to lose the case. If a jury decides, the defendant must usually pay more money than they would if they believe settling makes more sense.
What juries see in court doesn’t always explain or quantify what pain and suffering truly mean, though. Let’s talk about the human element behind this seemingly innocuous term.
What Pain and Suffering Mean Away from a Courtroom
Let us discuss a typical personal injury lawsuit situation for a moment. For this article’s sake, we’ll say someone drove drunk and sped through a red light. They T-boned another car and severely injured the driver. That driver sustained damage that required surgery.
This relatively common scenario will play out in a courtroom. The defendant’s lawyer might tell them they should settle, but that’s always the defendant’s choice. They may wait for a jury’s verdict if they feel they have some defense that can fully or partially excuse their behavior.
The jury might see the plaintiff sitting by their lawyer wrapped in bandages. Perhaps they’re walking with a cane or wearing a neck brace. They’re not using these props and getting sympathy with them. They genuinely need them because they sustained catastrophic damage when the other driver hit their car.
Away from a courtroom, the injured party might spend many nights not sleeping or sleeping only briefly. Maybe they usually sleep on their stomach, but they can’t do that because their injuries prevent it. They might only consume a liquid diet while their broken jaw heals. Perhaps they can’t work or go out for walks around the neighborhood like they could before.
What Else Doesn’t a Jury See?
The judge, jury, defendant, and even the plaintiff’s lawyer might see this individual’s distress. They may see them enter the courtroom walking stiffly, or perhaps they require a wheelchair during the trial. They can sense this person’s pain, but they’re not experiencing it themselves.
Away from court, this person might experience depression because they can’t work at the same job anymore. Maybe their job meant a lot to them, and they don’t feel like themselves if they can’t work. Perhaps they’re in therapy now because they feel worthless or unfulfilled.
Maybe they don’t have the same intimacy with their spouse or significant other that they did before. They might like riding their bike, playing tennis, or swimming, but they can’t do those things.
Additional Frustrations Outside the Courtroom
Before, maybe the plaintiff had a busy social life. Now, they don’t see their friends as much because they’re not very good company. Perhaps the car accident victim puts on a brave face, but they can’t quite mask the sadness inside them. If the doctors say they’ll never fully be the same again, despair probably describes their condition accurately.
Speaking of doctors, the plaintiff probably has many doctor’s appointments now. They may spend time in clinics or hospitals. They might get many X-rays or MRIs. If they never got an MRI, they may not like it very much. If they’re claustrophobic, maybe sliding into that tube instills panicky feelings they must fight.
They may spend time doing painful physical therapy. That might last for weeks, months, or even longer. They may feel bored and restless spending time around the house. They will likely envy their more able-bodied friends and family members who can go outside and engage in all kinds of activities.
Juries Must Help These Individuals
Someone who experiences pain and suffering likely wants money after a personal injury lawsuit, and most juries agree they deserve it. The jury members might not understand what’s happening in this person’s life, though, if they have not experienced something similar.
Perhaps the plaintiff can get up on the stand and give a victim impact statement. If they can articulate what their life has become, they may get more money than they otherwise would. If not, their lawyer must make their case for them. If the plaintiff hired a lawyer to convince a jury they must make this situation right, then perhaps the money they award the victim will make them feel somewhat better.
Some judges, juries, and even lawyers can’t comprehend the real pain and suffering, the physical sensations that the victim experiences. They likely don’t know about the mental and emotional anguish, either. That’s what the term pain and suffering encompasses. They’re small words that don’t fully convey what some victims experience if they live through a major accident or negligence incident.
If the jury does at least realize or believe the defendant acted maliciously or recklessly, then hopefully, they will make the appropriate decision. The money they reward the victim will not remove their pain, but it will balance the scales a little.
Hopefully, most jury members will never experience what a plaintiff does who went through a terrible accident. If they haven’t experienced it, though, they may at least have the imagination to comprehend everything they must rectify.