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Understanding Pain and Suffering

When someone goes to a doctor, the doctor often asks about pain and levels of pain, but they rarely ask a patient about suffering. The doctor understands that when people are in pain that they also suffer, but the primary concern of a medical provider is to deal with pain as a symptom of a traumatic injury or malfunction. Doctors are trained to either cure the problem causing pain or relieve pain when it cannot be cured.

In fact, there are specialist pain management doctors whose entire specialty is to reduce pain where the problem cannot be cured. There are pain clinics to help people where pain is no longer just a symptom of an illness or injury, but has become an illness in itself. Where there is all of this work by doctors to deal with pain, suffering is not an issue that they deal with. Even though doctors know that their patients suffer, this is not something that they clinically deal with. Suffering is how the pain is impacting a person’s quality of life and emotional state.

While physical pain refers to the physical part and origin of pain, it is necessary to consider the fact that all pain, like all other perceptions such as touch and smell which are physical, are all essentially mental. Pain is a sensation like touch, but it is ultimately mental as the pain signal is delivered and processed by our mind which creates both a physical and emotional reaction.

When a person is injured by another, the law provides through California Jury Instruction 3905A recovery for non-economic damages for past and future physical pain, mental suffering, and emotional distress. Specifically, an injured person is allowed to recover for physical pain, mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, physical impairment, inconvenience, grief, anxiety, humiliation, and emotional distress.

While it seems the law makes distinctions separating our the physical and emotional components of pain, they are all essentially the same thing. Where the physical sensation of pain may have a nerve that signals to the brain, there are variations in pain perception among individual people and varying conditions such as chronic versus intermittent pain.

Chronic pain in particular can have life disabling consequences such of the effect of emotional disturbance such as the anxiety and fear caused by not knowing what the future may hold and the stress of undergoing pain relieving procedures such as surgery. Further, there is the grief that comes from a person knowing that they will never have the same function and freedom that they did before they were injured. Where a person is permanently changed by trauma, it changes the rest of their life.

A person changes from being free to do anything they want in life to: having their time occupied by making doctors appointments; taking time away from family and friends by not being able to fully participate in physical activities; by having to stop doing what they enjoy to stop and deal with pain; never being allowed to not feel pain which disturbs a person’s mental calmness and relaxation; feelings of anxiety about undergoing medical treatment or the risk of taking medication; the risk of becoming addicted to pain medication; a person knowing they will never be the same as they were before the trauma; and, the sadness, fear and anxiety caused by knowing the painful condition will only get worse as the person gets older. Anxiety is essentially at the core of suffering.

“In general, courts have not attempted to draw distinctions between the elements of ‘pain’ on the one hand, and ‘suffering’ on the other; rather, the unitary concept of ‘pain and suffering’ has served as a convenient label under which a plaintiff may recover not only for physical pain but for fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, mortification, shock, humiliation, indignity, embarrassment, apprehension, terror or ordeal. Admittedly these terms refer to subjective states, representing a detriment which can be translated into monetary loss only with great difficulty. But the detriment, nevertheless, is a genuine one that requires compensation, and the issue generally must be resolved by the ‘impartial conscience and judgment of jurors who may be expected to act reasonably, intelligently and in harmony with the evidence.’ ” (Capelouto v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals (1972) 7 Cal.3d 889, 892–893 [103 Cal.Rptr. 856, 500 P.2d 880], internal citations and footnote omitted.)

Anxiety is the motor of all serious behavioral disturbances. Depression is the mood disturbance associated with anxiety. Suffering is a mood in which anxiety and depression are combined. The primary pain that a person feel is a sensation, whereas the suffering caused by that pain is a mood of anxiety and depression. Suffering can vary between people based on their age, life situation and ability to adapt to their traumatic injury. Suffering are all of those distressful experiences which go beyond pain.

The primary purpose of a lawsuit brought by a person who has been wrongfully injured by another persons or company’s negligence is to compensate the injured person for all of the harms and losses as a result of the negligent conduct of another. In order for justice to be achieved, the injured person needs to be placed in the position that he or she would have been in absent the wrong. The scales of justice need to be brought back into balance. Unless the wrongdoer is held accountable and compensates the injured person for all of the harms and losses, then balance is not restored and justice has not been done.

In California, it is up to the jury to determine the amount of damages will bring those scales back into balance. The plaintiff in an injury case will present to the jury how they are experiencing pain and the suffering it has caused in their life. One method that a jury can use to determine what the value of past and future pain and suffering is by allowing compensation by a per diem calculation. This calculation allows the jury to use an objective standard to determine the amount that they feel will fully compensate the plaintiff.

When the negligence of a person or corporation needlessly endangers a person and that negligence causes harms and losses by way of pain and suffering to another, the wrongdoer has hired essentially hired the injured person to live with the pain and suffering they caused. What the jury can consider is how much the wrongdoer should pay per day for past and future pain and suffering. The plaintiff will offer a daily amount based on the level and seriousness of the injury and the level of pain and suffering of the particular injured person.

It takes a very experienced attorney and a lot of time with an injured person to fully understand the seriousness of their pain and suffering. Our firm has been trying these kind of cases since 1974. We are fully dedicated to our clients and are willing to invest our time and resources to discovering the full extent of our client’s damages so they have the best opportunity to restore the scales of justice.