Just what exactly is 'Pain & Suffering'?
It's a term we hear often but we don't think much about.
When a medical malpractice lawyer describes someone who experienced pain and suffering, it's usually in the context of an injury they suffered because of someone else's wrongdoing.
But what exactly does it mean?
It means that as a result of an injury, the victim experienced pain.
It means that the injured victim suffered as a result of improper care and treatment.
If you ask someone who has broken their arm if the experience was painful, the answer is usually "Yes. It hurt a lot."
If you ask someone who broke their hip about how their injury has affected their daily life, you learn what suffering is.
Suffering is being limited from doing one's daily activities, and having pain while trying to do those activities.
Walking, going up steps, lifting groceries, getting into a car, opening the door, walking to the bathroom- these are all activities that become limited with pain from a fractured hip.
Everyone knows that people react differently to pain.
Some take pain medication like tylenol, advil, or motrin.
Others ask for something stronger like vicodin or tylenol #3 with codeine.
If you listen carefully to someone who's been injured you'll hear how they have terrible pain when trying to walk up the stairs.
You'll learn that when they sit in a chair, it takes them ten minutes to get out of the chair for fear of excruciating pain when trying to get up again. Watch how a hip fracture victim gets into a car to go to the doctor. Watch again as they struggle to get out of the car.
Imagine the awful feeling of trying to get into bed at night while doing their best not to turn or twist suddenly.
One wrong move and the pain returns.
I have heard the phrase that "Pain is life's window into hell."
People in pain often do everything they can to get rid of the pain.
Pain limits us from moving and using our body and it prevents us from living a full life.
Our body is incredible.
We can tolerate chronic pain, we can accept acute pain, we can even learn to live with some pain.
If you ask a woman who recently gave birth what the experience was like, she will usually not tell you about the tremendous pain she experienced.
She'll probably tell you what a joyous event it was.
The pain is immediate, and after the terrible pain passes, she, as most of us do, will tend to put aside the horrible, painful period of time our lives were made miserable.
Think about the last time you had a toothache that brought you to the dentist.
You went to the dentist to get rid of that pain.
Every time you chewed you had sharp pain.
Each time you had a cold drink or hot soup, the pain in your tooth was unbearable.
Everyone can sympathize with that type of pain.
Because everyone has had that experience.
They know what it feels like.
They know that the injection of numbing medicine will take away that pain, and the dentist will stop the pain from coming back.
For that, they are grateful.
What happens though when an injured victim continues to experience pain on a daily, hourly or constant basis?
What happens when the pain is made worse every time they move an arm or a leg or twist in their chair?
What happens when that person has to reach up above the cabinet to get the dish at the top, and that sharp pain shoots down their arm and into their shoulder?
Is the answer to keep that person on heavy pain medication?
There are many risks to pain medication.
They can cause stomach ulcers.
It can slow down our intestines and cause us to become constipated for long periods of time.
People can become addicted to pain medications that can destroy their lives.
So, if a person brings a lawsuit seeking compensation for the harm they were caused, we often will include a claim for their pain and the suffering that they have been caused to endure.
As part of that claim for 'pain and suffering' we ask a jury to make an award from the time of the malpractice until the time of trial.
That is known as "Past pain and suffering."
We also ask a jury to award compensation for what this person will experience in the future.
If their injuries are serious and significant, there is a good chance their injuries will last for the future, and possibly for the rest of their lives.
This is known as "Future pain and suffering."
Compensation is an obligation by the wrongdoer to pay the victim money for the harm that they have caused.
It's not a handout; it's not asking for sympathy; rather it's a debt that must be repaid in order to compensate the victim for the pain, suffering and limitations they've endured, and will endure for the future.
Pain and suffering- hopefully you will never experience it, but at least now, you will have a greater understanding of what an injured victim has gone through.