Cooper & Elliott Blog

Helping Juries Measure and Calculate Pain

Posted on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 @ 8:18 PM

Getting a jury to think clearly about and fairly award damages for pain can be a complex process.   In a recent article we discussed the difficulties associated with the task of placing a dollar amount on a human life, which poses similar challenges.  As Ohio personal injury attorneys, it’s our duty to help people who have been harmed recover from the harm that medicine alone can’t fix: the distress and reduced quality of life caused by pain.  Over the years we’ve developed tactics which help better position the jury to understand and assess this harm.

Pain requires more than medical treatment

There are many types of injuries with different degrees of severity.  Minor injuries result in minimal pain which is easily alleviated and requires relatively little treatment.  More severe injuries on the other hand, may require more than just medical treatment or therapy for the healing process to occur.  Consequences resulting from major injuries may have a tremendous effect on the victim’s life.  Lost wages, emotional distress, permanent disability, or even a change in the way a person is able to function in daily life are possible byproducts of serious injuries.

Many of those consequences can’t be reversed or repaired—which is why our legal system is designed to remedy the injustices and hardships by awarding monetary damages.

To calculate damages, juries need information to help them measure the pain in some fashion.  Most doctors will agree that there is no purely objective process for determining the severity of physical pain.  When it comes to providing guidance for a jury, showing the concrete effects of pain on a client’s daily life is really the best tool we have to describe and quantify pain.

Using a sliding scale

We’ve established a series of questions that help us guide the juror’s thought process for identifying the intensity of pain.  These three questions allow for an evaluation of different aspects of pain on a sliding scale:

  • How intense is the pain? Is the pain a dull ache, or a burning, excruciating pain? A stiff neck might be aggravating, while a broken bone can be agonizing.
  • How long does the pain last? Is this pain of shorter duration, perhaps relieved by the time of the trial? Or is this a pain that may last years or even a lifetime?
  • How does this pain interfere with a normal approach to life? Is this an annoyance, a minor inconvenience or an incapacitating pain like that caused by migraines?

Once the jury knows the answers to these questions, we then talk about how to award money in proportion to the harm the defendant has caused.  What amount is reasonable in terms of compensation for each answer?  Thousands of dollars may be appropriate for pain that is on the lower end of the scale.  Tens of thousands of dollars may be more fitting for pain at the higher end of the scale.  And if the victim is suffering pain that will last a lifetime, an even larger amount is certainly in order.

Determining the dollar amount

Picking an amount to begin with is often the hardest part of the process.  Whether to suggest a specific amount to the jury depends on each individual case.  But in all cases, we remind the jury that the amount they choose to award should be proportionate to the pain suffered, valuable time lost, and emotional damage inflicted.  We frame our language in a way that allows the jury to understand that their decision will serve as the reflection of justice for a person who’s been wronged in a way that has impacted their life tremendously.

Our questions and tactics help jurors understand the gravity of their responsibility and enable them to rationally decide what amount is reasonable to award the plaintiff.  The objectivity required of jurors can be daunting—we take that into account and are proud to say we do our best to provide the jury with information about our clients that allows for the most optimal and just outcome.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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