After you’re in an accident, you have a lot to deal with, and the last thing you probably want to worry about is learning how to prove your case in court. Instead, you’re probably worried about property damage, potentially urgent medical care, follow-up doctor’s visits, and more. Maybe you can no longer work and must deal with the associated stress of your inability to provide for yourself and your family. And while you’re trying to recover physically, you may be suffering just as much—if not more—mentally and emotionally, in ways that are much harder to define.
While things like car damage and medical costs are relatively straightforward to prove in a legal case, damages for pain and suffering are more difficult to measure. Your experience is subjective and no universal standard can measure a person’s pain. You need an experienced accident attorney by your side to establish the damages you deserve and fight to recover them on your behalf.
You deserve fair compensation for your injuries, but focusing on a lengthy and complicated legal case is something you shouldn’t have to fret over. A qualified accident attorney will help you investigate the accident and fault of the negligent party, assess the damages that you deserve, and enable you to arrive at a fair settlement agreement or win in court.
What Constitutes Pain and Suffering in a Personal Injury Case?
In any personal injury case, such as a car accident, you can recover different damages.
While every case is unique based on the facts and circumstances, some common categories of recoverable damages include:
- Past and future medical expenses;
- Past and future lost wages;
- Impairment of earning capacity;
- Reduced enjoyment of life; and
- Past and future pain and suffering.
Some of these damages are easily quantifiable (like medical expenses, lost wages, and lost earning capacity), and are often called economic damages. Others are harder to estimate (like reduced enjoyment of life and pain and suffering), often called non-economic damages.
Accidents usually cause physical pain and discomfort, and the physical injuries and trauma of the event often also lead to mental pain and suffering. “Pain and suffering” is a legal term that refers to the physical and emotional distress caused by an injury, and is often an important part of a personal injury case.
Physical Pain and Suffering
Pain can be both physical and emotional. Physical injuries from an accident due to someone else’s negligence can be hurt terribly: annoying, nagging, sharp, dull, throbbing, stinging, aching, etc. It can constantly afflict you or come and go. And, if severe, it can take away an accident victim’s ability to function in regular activities of daily living at work and home.
Examples of physical injuries that can lead to physical pain and suffering compensation include:
- Back pain;
- Severe and/or frequent headaches;
- Neck pain;
- Traumatic brain injury;
- Nerve damage;
- Broken or fractured bones;
- Dislocated joints;
- Organ damage;
- Burn injuries; and
- Spinal cord injuries/paralysis.
Mental and Emotional Pain and Suffering
Mental pain or emotional distress is known as “mental anguish” under Florida law. It occurs when someone else’s negligent actions result in mental harm.
Mental anguish can include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
- Insomnia/sleep disturbances;
- Inability to focus;
- Cognitive changes;
- Loss/diminishment of your quality of life;
- Mood swings;
- Lack of energy; and
- Lack of appetite.
Mental pain and suffering is any negative emotion a victim might suffer because of the physical pain and trauma of the accident. It includes the effects immediately surrounding the accident, but also those that a victim will likely continue to suffer. Moreover, mental anguish can emerge even if the victim did not suffer a physical injury. This happens in cases of negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, pain and suffering is easier to prove when a physical injury results in a permanent loss of function, high medical bills, and injuries doctors can verify with diagnostic tests.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a common example of pain and suffering. PTSD is a serious psychological condition that often occurs after a traumatic event, like a car accident. Traumatic events usually involve the threat of death, actual or serious injury to the victim, or the threat of death or physical injury to someone else.
The symptoms of PTSD after an accident can include:
- Intrusive and troubling thoughts about the accident;
- Disturbing dreams about the accident;
- Avoiding anything related to the accident, including a reluctance to drive, or staying away from the accident scene;
- Experiencing a numbing of emotional responses, including feeling less emotions or feeling detached from your emotions; and
- Feeling increased physical sensations, such as irritability, tension, anxiety and, inability to sleep.
While many accident survivors have an emotional reaction to the accident, PTSD is a more extreme condition than feelings of sadness or stress. It is not only emotionally difficult, PTSD can be physically debilitating as well. It can affect your ability to perform your job functions as well as everyday tasks.
How Are Pain and Suffering Damages Measured in Florida Personal Injury Cases?
If an accident injured you in Florida, you need a lawyer who knows how courts handle pain and suffering damages. In a personal injury case in Florida, a victim can recover damages that result from a bodily injury they sustained and any resulting pain and suffering due to disability or physical impairment, disfigurement, mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of enjoyment of life experienced in the past or the future.
This is financial compensation for what the victim has had to endure that they would not have suffered had it not been for the accident. To recover these damages, the victim must prove that they suffered and/or will likely suffer the harm.
Unlike easily quantified damages like medical expenses or lost wages, pain and suffering is harder to put a price on. This is because they are difficult to measure, as each victim’s experience is subjective and there is no one way to calculate them. Florida courts instruct juries to decide on a fair and just amount in light of the evidence.
Some of these may include:
- The severity of the injury.
- The potential for long-term consequences.
- The victim’s age.
- Whether the victim had preexisting conditions.
- The economic losses the victim suffered (which includes medical bills and lost wages).
How Do I Prove Pain and Suffering Damages in My Case?
Proving pain and suffering can be incredibly challenging, and you need an experienced lawyer to help. Because pain and suffering is subjective, the best way to prove your damages is to make objective comparisons of what you could do before your injury versus after.
Extensively document your comparisons. As you document the changes, note:
- The types of physical and recreational activities you participated in before the injury and how they were hurt by the accident. Do you still engage in the same activities now but with pain, or do you now have to avoid them completely?
- How your work life or career has changed since the injury. Can you still perform the physical requirements of your former job? Were your hours or opportunities for overtime reduced? Did your responsibilities change? Were you denied a promotion? Were you forced to retire?
- How your interactions with people at work, such as colleagues and clients, have changed.
- How the injury has affected your relationships with friends and family.
- How you have been affected emotionally since the injury. For example:
- If you experience fear, depression, anxiety, other emotional distress;
- If you have difficulty sleeping;
- If you have emotional outbursts;
- If you need to take medication;
- If you avoid activities you once enjoyed; and/or
- If you feel disconnected from friends and family.
The more evidence you provide, the more the detrimental effects of pain and suffering on your life will become clear.
While pain and suffering is subjective, objective evidence can prove it through:
- Detailed medical records, including diagnostic tests and notes. These should include your diagnosis and your doctor’s opinion on the severity of your injury, whether you will have a permanent disability, and future medical care that you’ll need. Additionally, keep records of treatment by a mental health professional.
- Photographic evidence of property damage and your physical injuries.
- Before and after videos displaying the change in your activity levels.
- Social media posts.
- Texts/emails to friends and family.
- Testimony of friends, family, and co-workers regarding how the injury has negatively impacted your life and your relationships.
- Evidence of lost work time or reduced ability to perform your job.
- Expert testimony regarding your suffering.
Your attorney will be able to assemble and coordinate all the necessary evidence so that you can focus on your recovery.
Does Florida Have Limits on Pain and Suffering Damages?
In general, Florida does not have a cap on damages for pain and suffering. Florida statutes formerly put a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases (and a $1 million cap in medical malpractice cases that result in a permanent vegetative state or death). However, the Florida Supreme Court struck down those caps as unconstitutional because they unfairly harmed those whom doctors’ mistakes most severely injured. Thus, if medical malpractice injured you, this arbitrary statutory cap no longer limits your recovery.
There is a cap on punitive damages, which are separate from non-economic pain and suffering damages. Punitive damages punish or deter the at-fault party’s dangerous behavior. Therefore, if, for example, the other driver who caused your accident was drinking while driving or under the influence of drugs, you might be entitled to seek punitive damages. Under Florida law, you can either receive three times the amount of other damages that you recover or $500,000 in punitive damages, whichever is greater. Your accident injury attorney will help you investigate whether the other party was engaging in a dangerous activity that may warrant seeking punitive damages in addition to economic and non-economic damages.
The Statute of Limitations
It is important to remember that there is a time limit to how long you have to bring a civil lawsuit against the party who caused your injury. Under Florida Statutes Section 95.11(3)(a), you must file your claim within four years of your accident. If an accident resulted in the death of a loved one, you must file your claim within two years of the incident giving rise to a wrongful death claim. Consult an attorney as soon as possible to promptly file your claim or you can never seek a recovery.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Now
An accident often results in substantial physical, mental, financial, and emotional burdens on both you and your family. Accidents can be complex, and insurance companies will push for you to settle quickly. To protect your right to recovery, you must need an experienced accident attorney on your side. An attorney will keep you informed each step of the way as we devise a strategy for your case, investigate and gather evidence, and work with experts to document and establish the full extent of your damages.