If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to damages. However, there are many different types of damages. You likely know that you can recover damages for physical injuries, but you can also receive compensation for emotional harms. Lawyers call these damages “pain and suffering.”
Damages for pain and suffering can be difficult to calculate. While everyone can see a broken leg, emotional injuries are often invisible. Also, while
medical bills establish the cost of physical injuries, emotional harms are harder to calculate. This post will explain how Alabama law approaches damages for pain and suffering.
How Courts Award Damages
Before going on, let’s review how courts award damages.
A personal injury case begins when the plaintiff (the person who was injured) files a lawsuit against the defendant (the person who caused the injury). If the parties cannot reach a settlement, the case will go to trial.
Trials have two important decision-makers – judges and juries. Judges decide all legal questions. The judge will determine what evidence the parties can use. The judge will also instruct the jury on the legal rules that they must use.
Though the judge decides the legal issues, the jury decides all issues of fact. (For instance, if one person testifies that a light was green and another says it was red, the jury will decide whose version of the story is true.) In personal injury cases, juries also have the responsibility of determining the damages award. It’s the jury’s job to look at all of the facts and decide how much compensation is needed.
Pain and suffering is just one of the many types of damages that a jury can award.
What is Pain and Suffering?
Like most other states, Alabama originally only allowed plaintiffs to recover damages for physical injuries. But since the 1800s, Alabama courts have permitted recovery for emotional injury as well. Alabama courts refer to these harms as “mental anguish.”
Alabama courts have said that mental anguish includes not only the pain associated with injuries, but also feelings like anxiety, fear, stress, embarrassment, anger, frustration, disappointment, worry, annoyance, and inconvenience. So, a person who suffers whiplash in a car accident can recover money not only for the cost of neck treatments, but also for the pain associated with the neck injury. The victim can also recover for the sadness and inconvenience of not being able to participate in normal life activities during the course of the injury.
While pain and suffering might seem like a sure thing, Alabama courts have made it clear that minor emotions do not qualify for damages. This is particularly true when those emotions are fleeting. The court has stated that mental anguish damages are appropriate where there has been a “profound effect” on the plaintiff’s mental state. So, strong emotions – especially those that are long-lasting rather than temporary – provide the best basis for recovery.
Proving Pain and Suffering
Because you’ll have to prove that the injury has had a profound effect on your mental state, you’ll need evidence that will prove this point.
The evidence that can prove your pain and suffering includes:
– Medical records
– Pictures of injuries
– Visits to mental health providers
– Prescriptions for antidepressants or other such medications
– Testimony about how the injury affected your mental state
– Testimony from a psychiatrist or psychologist
Of course, the best evidence of your mental state comes from you. Therefore, many attorneys recommend that accident victims begin keeping a daily journal of their thoughts and feelings shortly after the accident. These journals could be helpful evidence of your emotional state at trial.
If you decide to keep a journal, be sure to include items that are legally significant. Some of the factors that are relevant to mental anguish include nightmares, depression, insomnia, new difficulties in your marriage, constant crying, being “on edge,” and other such emotions.
Calculating Pain and Suffering
Damages for pain and suffering cover many areas of life. Also, pain is not only unique to every person, but to every accident and injury. Finally, it’s hard to put a monetary value on abstract concepts like sadness. For these reasons, it’s difficult to place a number on emotional pain.
Nevertheless, there are ways to estimate pain and suffering. Most attorneys use a “multiplier.” In a multiplier approach, the attorney will calculate your medical bills and other economic losses and then multiply them by a particular number (usually somewhere between 1.5 and 4) to estimate your pain and suffering. So, using a multiplier of 3, an accident victim who accrued $25,000 in medical bills for a broken leg could reasonably ask for $75,000 in pain and suffering.
Of course, a higher multiplier means a higher damages award. Factors that will go into determining whether your multiplier is higher or lower include:
– the extent of your injuries;
– the extent of the treatment for your injuries;
– whether medical treatment will be needed in the future;
– whether your injuries are expected to fully heal;
– whether your injuries, even if healed, have caused long-term effects;
– and many other factors.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you calculate a reasonable figure.
The Guidelines for Pain and Suffering
After listening to the facts and your lawyer’s arguments, the jury will decide how much your claim is worth. Alabama courts have said that the amount of any mental anguish award should be left to the discretion of the jury. This means that the judge cannot give the jury a specific number or range; it’s up to the jury alone.
Of course, the jury will not act in a vacuum. The jury will review the evidence of your physical and mental injuries. If you present strong and clear evidence of emotional harm, your chances of recovery will increase. However, putting forth weak or inconsistent evidence will weaken your case.
If you have been injured and need help recovering damages for pain and suffering or other harms, contact Collins Law, LLC. Our team understands the complex nature of Alabama personal injury law. We can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call us at (205) 881-0403 or click here to schedule a free consultation.