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The Difficult Determination of Compensation for Pain and Suffering

On Behalf of | Jun 16, 2017 | Personal Injury, Worker's Compensation

When someone suffers injuries due to the negligence of another person, there are certain expectations regarding the potential economic relief provided through the legal system. In Iowa, compensatory damages are those tied to an exact cost or loss by the plaintiff as a direct result of the negligent action. However, Iowa also recognizes other categories of damages that a plaintiff can recover. One of the most confusing for people not engaged in legal practice is non-economic damages for pain and suffering.

What Is Pain and Suffering?

An Iowa Supreme Court Case in 1995 made a determination on what was specifically included in the definition of pain and suffering. This decision by the highest court in Iowa remains the law in Council Bluffs. The court said that pain and suffering includes bodily suffering, sensation, or discomfort.

With this broad definition in place, lower courts have found lingering pain, for instance in the lower back or joints, tingling in fingers and other extremities, and aches throughout the body to all constitute pain and suffering. Mental effects of the injury, including mental anguish or the loss of enjoyment of life, also fall under the definition of pain and suffering.

A Determination for the Jury

In Iowa, juries are asked to assess compensation for a personal injury on the basis of what is fair and reasonable given the severity of an injury and the effect of the personal injury on livelihood, both present and future. A jury in Council Bluffs, and throughout Iowa, is further asked to make a determination whether it is appropriate to assess compensation for the noneconomic damage of pain and suffering. While a plaintiff’s lawyer will request a specific amount for pain and suffering, the final number is also in the jury’s hands.

Therefore, it is necessary for a personal injury claim to include a request for pain and suffering compensation, where it is appropriate. Personal injury lawyers in Council Bluffs, such as those at Telpner Peterson Law Firm, LLC, can advise on the appropriate sum to ask as compensation, taking into consideration severity of the injury and quantifiable damages, and provide a specific strategy for maximizing compensation for pain and suffering.

Difficulties in Assessing Pain and Suffering

Noneconomic damages are unique in that there is no set dollar amount attached to a plaintiff’s request. Unlike medical expenses and loss wages, which are proven and computable by firm dollar amounts, the “cost” of pain and suffering, loss of consortium, loss capacity to work, and emotional distress are not tied to set sums. There is no exact mathematical standard to determine the price a defendant should pay.

As this is a matter for juries, there are standards within Iowan courts. Many courts look at pain and suffering as a multiplication of medical expenses. However, this is not always the case and some juries have returned verdicts that included pain and suffering damages at more than 300 times the to-date medical expenses of a plaintiff.

Due to the difficulty, and perceived unfairness in the wide range of sums assessed by juries for pain and suffering, many states have capped the amount that can be awarded. However, not all states have taken this initiative, and many states feel that the determination is right to be fully in the hands of a jury. As present, Iowa law does not cap economic or noneconomic damages.

Instances Where Pain and Suffering Barred

In the State of Iowa, most personal injury claims allow for non-economic damages to be assessed as part of the claim. However, there are some exceptions. The first is in the case of workers compensation. Damages for pain and suffering are not allowed in a workers compensation case.

The other situation in which Iowa law prohibits compensation for pain and suffering is far less common; it is when a car accident occurs while fleeing from a committed felony. Otherwise, pain and suffering, and other non-economic damages such as emotional distress and loss of consortium, are valid in a personal injury claim in Council Bluffs.

Contact an Attorney

A qualified personal injury lawyer is able to assess your claim and determine the potential value of noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. If you would like to speak with a personal injury attorney in Council Bluffs, contact Walter P. Thomas at Telpner Law. Our office can be reached via phone at 712-309-3738.