video calls availableFree Consultation
Request Free Consultation

What’s the Difference Between Emotional Distress and Pain and Suffering?

Request Free Consultation
Posted on March 24, 2023

Most legal claims and lawsuits seeking to recover damages from personal injuries include both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are sometimes called “tangible’ damages because they are easy to show through paperwork such as medical bills and employer statements documenting missed days of work. Courts sometimes refer to non-economic damages as “intangible” damages because there are no invoices showing evidence of an accident victim’s level of pain or distress.

Whether an injury is caused by a car accident, medical malpractice, a defective product, a dog attack, or any other injury where one party is at fault, those who suffer significant harm are entitled to compensation for both tangible, calculable damages and intangible damages that are more difficult to quantify but equally as harmful.

Understanding “Pain and Suffering” as a Legal Phrase

“Pain and suffering” is the most common form of non-economic damages found in accident claims. Courts regularly award monetary compensation for these intangible damages and they are also commonly included in negotiations for compensation with the insurance provider of a party at fault in an injury claim. Courts in different jurisdictions have a variety of ways to calculate a monetary amount for pain and suffering based on the severity of the injury. They consider the person’s age, health, and the impact the injury may have on their future well-being.

Courts consider pain and suffering awards on a case-by-case basis. The medical bills of the injured person offer the courts a way of determining the amount of pain a person is likely to have suffered and will continue to suffer, with the basic understanding that the more costly treatment an injury requires, the more serious and painful the injury is likely to be.

In some cases, the courts determine damages based on a “per diem” method of calculating the number of days until the person reaches their maximum medical improvement and a compensatory amount for each day.

Proving pain and suffering requires a skilled attorney to document such evidence as:

  • Medical records
  • Prescription records
  • Victim testimony
  • Testimony of family members on the impact of the pain on the victim’s life
  • Testimony from medical experts.

Keeping a pain journal is another good way for accident victims to track the pain and suffering they experience after an injury.

How is Emotional Distress Different Than Pain and Suffering?

In cases of particularly egregious neglect, recklessness, or wrongdoing on the part of the person at fault, the victim may also gain compensation for emotional distress separate from the “suffering” aspect of “pain and suffering.” While suffering refers to the physical pain and limitation in mobility caused by an injury, emotional distress refers to the purely emotional or mental suffering a victim may experience after an accident or purposeful injury. Emotional distress or “severe emotional distress” may require the following evidence:

  • A record of receiving counseling
  • A personal journal documenting your emotional journey
  • A doctor or qualified therapist’s diagnosis of anxiety, depression, PTSD, or insomnia

Emotional distress can also refer to the grief suffered by a loved one in the event of a wrongful death. In some cases, the courts consider shame and humiliation a form of emotional distress.

What is “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?”

Recoverable damages can sometimes include “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” These damages occur when an injury was caused by a defendant’s extremely reckless actions, egregiously risky behavior, or purposeful wrongdoing. Many states also award punitive damages in this type of case. Punitive damages serve as a punishment and deterrent to the wrongdoer instead of as compensation but still result in monetary gain for the victim.

While insurance companies often rely on preset formulas calculating non-economic damages like pain and suffering and emotional distress, a diligent San Diego personal injury lawyer can effectively advocate for the maximum compensation for these damages.