Pain and suffering damages refer to the compensation you may receive in certain personal injury lawsuits for the physical pain and mental anguish that you suffer because of an injury. The damages are a type of compensatory damages that you may receive in some jurisdictions.
In particular, they are a category of non-economic damages as opposed to economic damages (or general damages as opposed to special damages). Other examples of non-economic damages include
- loss of consortium and
- loss of enjoyment of life.
There is no one set standard that a judge or jury will use for calculating pain and suffering awards. You may show evidence of physical pain and emotional trauma, and a judge or jury then decides on a reasonable amount of money for these damages.
Note, though, that parties often use a “multiplier method” to help estimate pain and suffering losses. Under this method, you or your attorney multiplies your economic damages by a number between 1 and 5. The more severe the injuries and the greater the suffering, the higher the multiplier.
Most state laws say that the money you receive from a pain and suffering award is not taxable, either at the state or federal level. This rule is true provided that you suffer from some type of physical injury or illness. In cases involving only emotional pain, your damage award could be taxable.
Our California personal injury attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. How are pain and suffering damages calculated?
- 2. Is emotional distress included in pain and suffering damages?
- 3. What is a pain and suffering multiplier?
- 4. Are pain and suffering damages taxable?
- 5. What is the law in California?
1. How are pain and suffering damages calculated?
In personal injury cases where compensation is given for non-economic losses, there is no fixed standard for determining the monetary value of a pain and suffering award.1
If you prove that you suffered certain physical injuries and/or mental pain, a judge or jury will then use its judgment to decide a reasonable dollar amount for pain and suffering damages.
While pain and suffering damages compensate you for subjective losses, they are often proven with objective evidence. Examples include:
- medical records/medical bills showing the extent of medical treatment you received,
- photos of property damage and physical injuries evidencing the severity of your injury,
- comprehensive doctors’ and therapists’ notes,
- before and after videos showing your activity level,
- social media posts, texts, and emails,
- testimony of friends, co-workers, and family members,
- evidence of lost work time, and
- expert testimony regarding medical suffering, bodily injury and/or brain injury, lost earning capacity, and anything else that could be relevant.
Note that many states provide caps on pain and suffering damages. If a cap exists, a judge or jury cannot award you with a pain and suffering award above that cap. See our article on pain and suffering settlement examples.
2. Is emotional distress included in pain and suffering damages?
Yes. Emotional distress is included in pain and suffering damages.
“Emotional distress” refers to the mental impairment you suffer following a personal injury or accident. Examples of emotional distress may include:
- lack of sleep,
- depression, and
You can still receive an amount of money for pain and suffering if you suffer emotional distress without any corresponding physical injury.2
In these cases, though, it is often a good idea for you to receive some type of mental health counseling.
Testimony of a counselor is particularly appropriate in cases in which you have experienced significant subjective symptoms such as:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or
- similar symptoms that are not easy to establish with objective tests.
3. What is a pain and suffering multiplier?
A “multiplier method” refers to one common way that parties (such as attorneys, you, and insurers/insurance adjusters) use to help calculate pain and suffering claims.
Under this method, add together all the economic damages involved in a case. Then multiply that figure by a certain number (typically between 1 and 5, with 3 being most commonly used).
The specific multiplier used in a case will depend on the severity of your injury. So you will use a low multiplier (like 1 or 2) in cases with mild injuries, and you would use a higher multiplier (like 4 or 5) in cases with severe injuries.
You may use a higher multiplier in cases involving:
- lifelong medical care,
- severe types of pain,
- lost wages due to a disability,
- severe injuries involving broken bones, and
- reduced quality of life.
Example: Jim is texting while driving. As a result, he fails to stop at a stop sign and hits two pedestrians, Carrie and Mark.
As a result of the car accident, Carrie suffers a cleanly broken arm. She has medical bills of $15,000 and she misses five weeks of work at $1,000 per week. Carries economic losses thus total $20,000.
Carrie’s inconvenience was not that severe and she fully recovered from the auto accident with no scars. Her lawyer then might assign a multiplier of 2 to her case for a total personal injury settlement value of $40,000 (2 X $20,000).
Mark, on the other hand, suffers a complex fracture of his leg. His economic losses total $150,000. In addition, Mark is left with very bad scars and neuropathy (nerve pain) that might be permanent.
Because of the severity of the injury, Mark’s multiplier would be higher than Carrie’s, perhaps a 5. In that case, his settlement would be valued at $750,000 (5 X $150,000).
Carrie’s pain and suffering damages are $20,000 whereas Mark’s are $600,000.
The multiplier method for calculating pain and suffering is often contrasted with the per diem method.
Under the latter, lawyers, you, and an insurance company try to calculate a specific dollar amount for each day you experience pain and suffering because of an accident.
This daily rate is often calculated by using your daily earnings prior to the accident.
For example, if you earned $300 per day prior to an injury, and experienced pain and suffering for 14 days, you may demand $4,200 (or 14 x $300) in pain and suffering damages. (See our page on how much to ask for in a personal injury settlement.)
4. Are pain and suffering damages taxable?
The general rule is that the money you receive for a personal injury case is not taxable under either state or federal law. This is true as to money for both economic and non-economic damages.
Most jurisdictions say this rule is true in cases where you suffer some type of:
- physical injury, or
- physical sickness.
This means that if you suffer from emotional distress (with no physical injury), your damage award could be taxable under the law.
5. What is the law in California?
California’s laws on pain and suffering damages generally follow the above discussion.
State law says that pain and suffering is a type of non-economic damages that you can ask for in a personal injury case.
Other examples of these damages include compensation for:
- suffering and psychological trauma,
- emotional distress,
- loss of a limb or organ (or its use),
- loss of quality of life from a serious injury,
- inability to engage in pleasurable activities (such as hobbies or sex), and/or
- loss of enjoyment of life.
There is no fixed standard in California for deciding the value of pain and suffering damages.3 However, attorneys and plaintiffs often use the multiplier method to estimate damage amounts.
Further, California law does not impose a damage cap in most personal injury claims involving pain and suffering and other economic damages.
But some exceptions do apply.
For example, there is a $250,000 cap on “non-economic” medical malpractice damages.4 Note, though, that the cap does not apply in cases in which a healthcare provider recklessly or intentionally injured or abused you.
California Civil Code 3333.4 also restricts the recovery of non-economic damages in actions for negligence arising out of the operation or use of a motor vehicle as follows:
- drivers convicted of DUI may not recover non-economic damages,5
- uninsured vehicle owners cannot recover or be indemnified for noneconomic damages except those caused by drunk drivers,6
- uninsured drivers cannot recover or be indemnified for noneconomic damages under any circumstances.7
Further, Civil Code 3333.3 prohibits you from recovering any damages if you were injured while committing, or fleeing after committing, a California felony.8
For additional help…
Are you an injury victim? For additional guidance or to discuss your case with one of our personal injury lawyers, we invite you or a loved one to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group.
We can usually achieve a favorable resolution for accident victims out-of-court. Though if necessary, we are ready to take your case to trial in pursuit of the largest verdict possible under the law. Our attorneys provide consultations and legal advice to claimants all over California.
- There is a distinction in personal injury law between economic and non-economic damages. The former type of damages includes objective losses like medical bills, property damage, and lost wages. The latter includes more subjective losses like pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.
- Note, though, that non-economic damages are more likely to be granted in a personal injury claim when there is a physical injury and: (1) the injury results in permanent disfigurement or long-term loss of function; (2) medical expenses are high; (3) injuries can be verified by x-rays, lab tests, or other objective criteria; or, (4) recovery was difficult and/or took a long time.
- See, for example, California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 3905A. See also Johnson v. Monsanto, Co. (. , 2020)
- California Civil Code 3333.2.
- California Civil Code 3333.4.
- California Vehicle Code 16056 sets forth minimum insurance requirements for California vehicle owners and drivers.
- See Quackenbush v. Superior Court (Congress of California Seniors) (1997) 70 Cal.Rptr.2d 271, modified on denial of rehearing, review denied, certiorari denied 119 S.Ct. 73.
- California Civil Code 3333.3.
- California Senate Bill No. 447 (2021). See Sullivan v. Delta Air Lines, Inc. (1997) .