How Are Damages for Pain and Suffering Measured in New Jersey?

Damages are amounts of money that an injured person can obtain through a legal claim. There are two types damages: economic and non-economic. Economic damages (also known as special damages) are quantifiable out-of-pocket expenses, such as medical bills, lost wages and property damage. Non-economic damages (also known as general damages) are less tangible and harder to calculate. They include pain and suffering, which is the comprehensive term for physical discomfort and emotional distress resulting from an injury.

Pain and suffering can be severe and long-lasting, impacting your quality of life for years if not forever. It could lead to broken relationships, depression, PTSD, sleep disorders and other negative effects. For those reasons, pain and suffering damages often comprise the greatest percentage of a personal injury award or settlement.

Because pain and suffering is not a financial loss, there is no objective way to measure it. Much of the evidence introduced to support such damages consists of personal and expert testimony. But insurance companies and the courts typically rely on two methods that provide reasonable standards for how much compensation a victim should receive. These are the multiplier method and the per diem method.

The multiplier method is the most common. Pain and suffering damages are determined by multiplying the victim’s economic damages by a certain factor. The multiplier is usually between 1.5 and 5, but it can be higher when the victim needs permanent care or institutionalization. Juries look at the medical evidence and use their own life experience to decide what the multiplier should be. Imagine someone suffered multiple fractures in a car accident, requiring several surgeries and afterward losing range of motion in a leg. The jury decides that the person’s pain and suffering multiplier should be 4. If economic damages came to $500,000, the victim would be awarded $2 million for pain and suffering.

The per diem method is less common but simpler to apply. A dollar value is assigned to each day that the victim lives with pain. Often, the dollar value is the person’s daily wage. The value is multiplied by how many days the pain persists. For example, if the victim makes $240 per day and experienced pain for six months, or 180 days, after the accident, the jury would multiply $240 by 180 to get a total pain and suffering award of $43,200. There are problems with using this method. Since it is based largely on income, it tends to unduly reward high earners and penalize low earners, even though their pain and suffering may be comparable. Also, the number of days is difficult to quantify, especially since pain can persist for months or even years.

At Seigel Law in Ridgewood, New Jersey, we have deep experience in fully assessing the pain and suffering of accident victims so that they can obtain fair and adequate compensation. Please call 201-444-4000 or contact us online to set up a free initial consultation.

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