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How Do Lawyers Calculate Pain and Suffering?

Evaluating pain and suffering damages requires careful examination of a personal injury’s impact on your life. Lawyers and insurance companies sometimes use shorthand formulas to arrive at a ballpark figure for pain and suffering damages. But ultimately, determining the amount you deserve takes a thorough analysis of the evidence and an informed prediction of what a jury might award you at trial as reasonable compensation for the harm you’ve suffered.

Here’s an overview of pain and suffering damages, the factors affecting their value, and how hiring a personal injury lawyer can maximize your compensation after sustaining a personal injury.

Overview of Pain and Suffering Damages

People who have suffered harm due to someone else’s wrongful conduct have a legal right to receive compensation for their losses.

Typically, they can claim two forms of damages: economic and non-economic (pain and suffering).

  • Economic damages represent the financial impact of a personal injury and include medical expenses, non-medical costs of living with an injury, and lost income.
  • Non-economic or pain and suffering damages reflect all other harmful impacts of an injury.

The components of pain and suffering damages vary depending on the injured individual’s circumstances. The toll an injury takes on one person’s life can differ significantly from how it might affect someone else’s.

For example, pain and suffering damages can include compensation for: 

Injuries impact a person’s life in highly personal ways. Your pain and suffering are unique to you. Accurately calculating them requires a thorough understanding of how you lived your life before the injury and what’s happened to you since.

Evaluation of Pain and Suffering

Experience Lawyer for Personal Injury
Your right to receive pain and suffering damages depends on your lawyer’s ability to prove in court (if necessary) the impact an injury has had on your life. The amount you could recover for pain and suffering reflects what a jury hearing your lawyer’s presentation of the evidence would consider reasonable compensation for the harm and difficulty you’ve endured. That highly subjective number can rest on numerous factors, discussed below.

Lawyers and insurance companies sometimes use shorthand formulas to estimate potential pain and suffering damages to simplify the prediction of what a jury might award you at trial. But those formulas suffer from significant limitations. Ultimately, it takes a seasoned trial lawyer’s skilled analysis and careful reasoning to land on a pain and suffering damages amount truly reflective of your unique circumstances.

Factors Affecting the Amount of a Potential Jury Award for Pain and Suffering

The inherent value of any personal injury claim stems from your lawyer’s ability to prove your claim for damages in court. Although most personal injury claims never see the inside of a courtroom, a lawyer’s potential to prove them to a judge and jury makes them worth something. After all, an at-fault party or insurance company won’t pay you damages unless they believe you could win a case against them in court if push came to shove.

Predicting what a jury would award for economic damages is relatively easy. At a trial, your lawyer would show them medical bills, repair invoices, receipts, and future estimates of your living expenses. Arriving at a number requires little more than simple arithmetic.

But pain and suffering damages are a different kettle of fish. In making your case, your lawyer would ask jurors to put themselves in your shoes and estimate what they’d consider reasonable compensation for your struggles.

Unique details of your case could weigh heavily in the jury’s analysis, such as: 

  • The degree of acute or chronic pain you feel daily;
  • How drastically your day-to-day life has changed since your injury;
  • Hopes and dreams for the future your injury has forced you to abandon;
  • Changes in the dynamics of your family or an intimate relationship;
  • Your loss of the ability to participate in favorite activities;
  • Anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress that cloud your life; and
  • The permanence or likely worsening of your injury or its impact on your life expectancy.

The jury’s estimation of reasonable compensation for your pain and suffering can also depend on how your lawyer makes the case. The most skilled personal injury lawyers are master storytellers. They weave together pieces of evidence and details about your life that touch jurors’ hearts and emphasize the depths of your challenges. The more effective the portrait of your life a lawyer can paint, the higher the compensation a jury may award.

The amount of pain and suffering a jury could award can also rest on demographic or geographic factors. Your age, living situation, and health before the injury can affect a jury’s decision. So can whether you and the jurors share cultural or community values. A skilled lawyer knows how to assess and use these factors to your advantage or blunt any disadvantage they may create.

Predicting Pain and Suffering at the Beginning of the Case

The subjective nature of how a jury might respond to a lawyer’s presentation of the evidence complicates the task of predicting pain and suffering damages at the beginning of a personal injury case. Lawyers and insurers don’t necessarily have all the facts when a case starts. If they want to resolve your claim without going to court, they need to size up the available evidence and each other to come up with a reasonable estimate for pain and suffering.

The most reliable way to improve your odds of maximum pain and suffering damages is to hire an experienced trial lawyer with an established reputation for building well-supported cases, negotiating aggressively, and getting top-dollar results in out-of-court settlements and jury trials. Hiring a lawyer respected (and perhaps a little feared) by defense attorneys and insurance companies signals that you have a provable claim for significant pain and suffering damages.

It also puts the lawyer’s wealth of knowledge and experience to work in estimating how much you could receive.

A seasoned personal injury trial lawyer can often eyeball your case and tell you the range of pain and suffering damages you could expect with reasonable accuracy. The lawyer’s prediction draws on past cases the lawyer has handled, your account of your injury and its impact on your life, and the information available about who is liable to you and how much money they have (in assets or insurance) to pay for your losses.

The Flawed, Shorthand Formulas Sometimes Used to Calculate Pain and Suffering

Some lawyers and (even more so) insurance companies use shorthand formulas to calculate potential pain and suffering damages. Rather than spend time investigating your injury and understanding its impact on your life, they plug a few numbers into an equation to estimate what you should receive. But the formulas they use do not take your unique circumstances into account and frequently misrepresent the value of your case for pain and suffering.

One method is called a multiplier. It involves multiplying your economic damages by a number between 1 and 5. The so-called multiplier reduces the complicated and nuanced evaluation of your pain and suffering to a rating on a 1 to 5 scale, with one being the least significant pain and suffering and five being the most.

The multiplier method has at least two apparent flaws.

First, using a 1 to 5 scale arbitrarily oversimplifies the evaluation of pain and suffering. (Why not 1 to 10 or 1 to 100?)

Second, economic damages aren’t necessarily a reliable reference point for pain and suffering. Under the multiplier method, two people who endure comparably profound pain and suffering will receive radically different awards simply because one’s medical treatments cost far less than the other’s.

Another shorthand formula for calculating pain and suffering is known as a per diem. It involves assigning a daily value to a person’s pain and suffering and multiplying it by the days that trauma and life difficulty will probably last. This method purportedly simplifies the pain and suffering analysis by narrowing its focus to a one-day timescale.

But the per diem calculation, too, suffers from significant flaws. Assigning a value to a single day’s pain and suffering and multiplying it by its estimated duration can become an exercise in false precision. People don’t experience pain and suffering in one-day increments, so why assess their struggles that way? Plus, the per diem calculation relies on potentially arbitrary and unnatural assumptions about when pain and suffering (or a person’s life) will end.

To be sure, formulas can help justify the pain and suffering damages your lawyer demands in a written claim or settlement negotiation, especially if an insurance company or opposing attorney puts stock in them. But they’re not the be-all-end-all of determining your non-economic damages. Ultimately, you deserve to receive the pain and suffering compensation a jury would award you based on your lawyer’s persuasive presentation of the evidence at trial.

Protect Your Right to Pain and Suffering Damages

As the victim of a personal injury, you have valuable legal rights to claim damages for your pain and suffering. But your actions after getting hurt can affect those rights, sometimes negatively. Following these tips can safeguard the value of your case and put you in a strong position to receive maximum compensation.

Always Seek Medical Treatment

Seek appropriate medical care for your injuries immediately and follow your doctor’s advice. Don’t wait for trauma to worsen or try to live through the pain. Not only will skipping or ignoring care harm your health and well-being, but it can also hinder your lawyer’s ability to secure maximum pain and suffering damages.

Going to the doctor creates potentially valuable evidence a lawyer can use to illustrate your condition. It also shows you took reasonable care of yourself, protecting your claim’s value.

Get a Lawyer Immediately

Hire an experienced lawyer once you’ve addressed your immediate medical needs. The sooner you have a skilled legal professional advocating for your rights and interests, the higher the likelihood of securing maximum damages. Once hired, a lawyer can begin investigating your case, collecting evidence, constructing your claim, and advising you about your options. An attorney can also ensure compliance with any legal deadlines that govern your case.

Hiring a lawyer is affordable no matter what your financial situation. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free case evaluation. They also take cases on contingency, which means their fee is a percentage of any money they recover for you. You only pay them if they win your case.

Do Not Agree to a Settlement Without First Consulting an Attorney

Sometimes, an at-fault party or insurance company will offer a quick settlement of your claim before you’ve hired a lawyer. Do not agree to their proposal or sign anything they send you without first talking to an experienced personal injury attorney.

Any offer made to you directly will likely fall short of the amount you deserve as compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. Accepting a quick payment can jeopardize your ability to claim appropriate damages for your pain and suffering.

Instead, leave the negotiation of your claim to a lawyer who knows how to force liable parties to pay an amount that reflects the true value of your difficulties.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you or someone you love recently suffered a personal injury in an accident or incident caused by someone else, you may have significant rights to receive damages, including for pain and suffering.

Don’t take an insurance company’s word for how much you could receive.

Estimating pain and suffering damages takes careful analysis and insight into how a jury might view your case. To learn how much you might receive, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Denver who can evaluate and explain your options.

Lauren Varner, Personal Injury Attorney

Lauren is a Personal Injury Attorney. She is Colorado native who became involved with the field of personal injury long before she became an attorney. Lauren’s professional philosophy centers around good old fashioned hard work, producing quality work product, and treating others professionally, with dignity and respect at all times.

Awards and as featured on

National Trial Lawyers Top 40 Under 40 Included in TOP 40 Under 40 by The National TRIAL Lawyers in Centennial CO Varner Faddis Top Lawyers Denver Badge – 5280 Magazine American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys 10 Best Attorney Top 40 Under 40 5280 Denver Top Lawyers