Clients, friends and family members frequently ask me the same question: how does a jury calculate how much pain and suffering is worth?
Our civil system of justice can compensate an injured person only by awarding money damages. It’s easy for us to understand compensating somebody for “hard” economic damages like loss of earnings and medical bills. But money can not erase the consequences of suffering serious or catastrophic injuries. So how does a jury go about awarding money damages for pain and suffering (or what we lawyers like to call “general damages”)?
In a personal injury trial, the judge instructs the jury on damages according to the Revised Arizona Jury Instructions. One of those instructions requires a jury to decide the full amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate an injured person for each element of damages, including:
1. The nature, extent, and duration of the injury;
2. The pain, discomfort, suffering, disability, disfigurement, and anxiety already experienced, and reasonably probable to be experienced in the future as a result of the injury;
3. Loss of love, care, affection, companionship, and other pleasures of the marital or parent-child relationship; and
4. Loss of enjoyment of life, that is, the participation in life’s activities to the quality and extent normally enjoyed before the injury.
Essentially, it comes down to three factors: the severity of the injury, the duration of the injury, and how that injury interferes with that person’s quality of life.
This is why, everything else being equal, a permanent injury suffered by a twelve-year-old boy should be compensated at a significantly greater amount than the same injury on a seventy-five-year-old man: the child will live with the consequences of that injury for many more years, given his youthful age and much greater statistical life expectancy. Or why a permanent knee injury for an individual who runs six miles every morning is compensated much more significantly than the same injury for someone of the same age who leads a more sedentary life style: the knee injury will have a greater adverse effect on the life of the more active individual.
And with that said comes one major caveat. Ten juries will award ten different amounts for pain and suffering damages. In our civil system of justice, the old cliché rings true (well, among lawyers, anyway): the only thing certain about litigation is its uncertainty!