What Counts as Pain and Suffering in a Personal Injury Claim?

Pain and suffering is more than the physical experience of injuries. See all the different types of pain and suffering to include in your injury claim.

In personal injury claims and lawsuits, “pain and suffering” represents the physical and emotional distress the victim endures after a bodily injury.

Pain and suffering is an umbrella term used by insurance companies and personal injury lawyers. It encompasses all non-economic damages, also called “general damages,” that can’t be measured by adding up bills and receipts.

Learn more about how to calculate pain and suffering costs, and how to prove your pain and suffering.

Here we explore all types of pain and suffering and emotional harm that should be accounted for in a fair personal injury settlement.

What counts as pain and suffering:

  1. Physical Pain and Suffering
  2. Emotional Distress in Adults and Children
  3. Loss of Enjoyment of Life After Injury
  4. Disfigurement and Loss of Function
  5. Loss of Consortium: Not Just for Spouses
  6. Wrongful Death Emotional Damages

1. Physical Pain and Suffering

Most people hear “pain and suffering,” they think of physical pain. Indeed, the pain and agony of physical injuries experienced by an accident victim – at the time of the injury and throughout treatment and recovery – can be horrifying.

This category includes all the physical discomforts arising from your injuries.

Pain and suffering includes:

  • Pain from the infliction of the injury
  • Ongoing severe pain (broken bones, burns, swelling)
  • Soreness, aching, stiffness, headaches during recovery
  • Pain from medical treatments (stitches, surgery, skin debridement, injections, IVs)
  • Nausea and vomiting caused by pain or medications
  • Itching and chafing (from bandages, casts, inability to change position)
  • Trembling, weakness, shivering (shock, drug reactions)
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

2. Emotional Distress in Adults and Children

Experiencing a violent and painful injury out of the blue is a shock to the mind as well as the body. Everyone handles emotional distress differently. Often, the emotional fallout isn’t apparent right away.

Discuss symptoms of emotional distress with your doctor, or your child’s pediatrician. Be clear that the mental anguish you are experiencing began after you were injured.

Costs for mental health services are compensable economic damages just like any other medical bills, but victims also deserve compensation for the emotional pain they suffer.

Emotional distress may be experienced as:

Emotional distress in children may also include:

  • Bedwetting
  • Regression (an older child acting more like a baby)
  • Separation anxiety (clinginess)
  • Fear of being left alone
  • Excessive crying
  • Change in eating habits
  • Stomach aches

3. Loss of Enjoyment of Life After Injury

Loss of enjoyment of life is a valid part of a personal injury claim. This happens when you’re no longer able to participate in or enjoy activities that were an important part of your life before the accident.

Loss of present and future enjoyment includes:

  • Recreational activities (bicycling, hiking, horseback riding)
  • Hobbies (knitting, crochet, woodworking, model rockets)
  • Daily exercise
  • Social activities with friends
  • Faith-based activities (worship services, retreats)
  • Home-based tasks (cooking, gardening, pet care)

You might have to miss vacations and special occasions with your family while recovering from your injuries. With severe injuries, you may never again dance with your spouse, take a cruise, or carry your grandchild.

Keep track of all the ways your quality of life diminished because of someone else’s negligence.

4. Disfigurement and Loss of Function

In some cases, the emotional distress of disfigurement or permanent impairment is treated as a separate type of pain and suffering. Injuries like amputations are both disfiguring and a significant loss of function.

Permanent and serious injury claims should always be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney. Only an attorney can bring a case like this to trial and get the maximum payout for your pain and suffering damages.

Most injury law firms offer a free consultation to accident victims and their families.


Scars and disfiguring injuries that radically alter the injured person’s appearance often deserve a high “pain and suffering” dollar amount in a claim or lawsuit.

Injury disfigurements include:

  • Scarring (from lacerations or burns)
  • Amputations (fingers, toes, hands, feet, limbs)
  • Distortions to face or limbs
  • Loss of an eye or ear

Permanent Impairments

The loss of use or function of any body part or system can take a terrible emotional toll on you and your loved ones. The party that caused your injuries is liable for the suffering you feel from this loss.

Functional losses may include:

  • Sensory losses: Vision, hearing, taste, smell
  • Use of hands or arms
  • Use of feet or legs
  • Bowel or bladder control
  • Sexual ability (impotence)
  • Childbearing ability

5. Loss of Consortium: Not Just for Spouses

Most people recognize loss of consortium as a way to describe an injury victim’s inability to enjoy sexual relations with their spouse. In legal terms, loss of consortium actually refers to the loss of companionship and care in all kinds of family relationships.

Yes, spouses still have a claim for loss of marital intimacy in a personal injury case, but they also have a claim for the loss of companionship, advice, and comfort from the injured spouse. A child can have a consortium claim when the loss of a parent deprives them of the care, affection, and mentoring they had a right to expect.

Case Summary: Millions Awarded for Consortium, Pain and Suffering Claims    

Forty-year-old Carrie DeJongh died after an allergic reaction to dye injected into her body for a CT scan. Her family filed a malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Roy Slice, who administered the CT scan to Carrie.

During the trial, the jury was convinced that Carrie would not have died but for the physician’s malpractice.

The jury awarded $1.5 million to Carrie’s estate for her pre-death pain and suffering. They also awarded $5.5 million to each of Carrie’s four children for loss of parental consortium, and $6 million to her husband for loss of spousal consortium.

6. Wrongful Death Emotional Damages

Some states only allow wrongful death claims to be made on behalf of the decedent’s estate. However many states allow family members to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the party responsible for their loved one’s fatal injuries.

In addition to economic damages for the cost of burial and loss of the deceased person’s income, family members can seek a significant amount of money for mental pain and suffering.

Non-economic damages to family members may include:

  • Spousal loss of consortium
  • Parental loss of consortium
  • Grief and emotional distress
  • Loss of nurturing, protection, and other emotional support
Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>