Does Your Work Injury Qualify for Pain and Suffering Compensation?

We review the circumstances when you can get compensation for pain and suffering after a work injury and other options for filing a claim.

Pain and suffering is a catch-all term used to describe the physical pain and negative emotions that you experience following an accident.

Negative emotions common after an injury can include feelings of depression, sadness, fear, and anxiety.

Pain and suffering falls into the category of compensation known as “general damages” for personal injury claims and lawsuits.

Workers’ compensation insurance won’t pay for pain and suffering after a work injury. But there are a few situations where injured workers can receive pain and suffering compensation for a workplace injury.

You can seek pain and suffering compensation in claims and lawsuits that are outside of, or in addition to, worker’s compensation.

In limited circumstances, you can sue your employer. For instance, if you suffered an injury because of some intentional act by your employer. Or, if your employer unlawfully failed to provide you with workers’ compensation insurance.

You can also demand pain and suffering compensation in third-party claims for work-related injuries, which you might file in addition to your workers’ compensation claim.

Pain and Suffering for Workplace Injuries

Workplace injuries will typically not qualify for pain and suffering compensation.

Most injured employees resolve their on-the-job injury claims through their state’s workers’ compensation system. Since workers’ comp benefits don’t include pain and suffering, most work injury victims won’t see this type of compensation.

While pain and suffering is awarded in a personal injury lawsuit, state laws generally preclude workers from suing their employers for work-related injuries.

What’s Included in Workers’ Compensation Benefits

While workers’ comp doesn’t pay workers for pain and suffering, it still provides employees with some valuable benefits.

Your employer’s workers’ comp insurance covers expenses directly related to a workplace injury, like medical expenses and lost wages.

Workers’ comp benefits include:

  • Medical Benefits: These pay for your medical care and treatment, medical bills, medications, medical equipment, and physical therapy.
  • Disability Wage Replacement: Depending on the severity of your injuries, these benefits are categorized as Temporary Partial Disability, Temporary Total Disability,  Permanent Partial Disability, or Permanent Total Disability.
  • Disability Lump-Sum: If you suffer a permanent loss of use of a body part or function, an insurer may award you a lump-sum amount based on a medically determined impairment rating.
  • Vocational Training: This is provided at no or reduced cost if you’re unable to return to the type of job you had before your injury. Vocational training is offered to help you get back to work in a job that meets your physical limitations.
  • Death Benefits: When a worker is fatally injured on the job, the family will be extended financial benefits to help with burial expenses and some replacement of the deceased worker’s wages.

Why Workers’ Comp Won’t Pay Pain and Suffering

Workers’ compensation is considered a no-fault program. “No-fault” means an injured worker doesn’t have to prove that someone caused their injury. For example, you don’t have to show that an employer or co-worker did something that directly harmed you.

According to most states’ workers’ compensation laws, all you have to show to qualify is that you’re an eligible employee and suffered a work-related injury.

Fault is excluded from workers’ compensation so that injured workers can receive their benefits quickly. The burden of proving an injury delays the payment of benefits. While workers’ comp benefits get paid in a matter of weeks, it can take months, even years, for parties to resolve a personal injury lawsuit.

The trade-off to not proving who caused your work injury is that the workers’ comp system limits the types of benefits and compensation you can recover.

All the types of compensatory damages you can seek in a personal injury claim or lawsuit are just not allowed in a workers’ compensation claim, including awards for pain and suffering.

Some may find this unfair, but it’s considered a trade-off to help provide the fair outcome of receiving benefits quickly after an injury occurs.

Cases Where Pain and Suffering is Awarded

While the general rule is that injured employees have to rely on workers’ compensation and can’t sue their employer, exceptions apply. Two of the most common exceptions are when an employer intentionally harms an employee and when an employer fails to carry workers’ comp insurance.

Lawsuits Against an Employer

State laws usually don’t allow workers to sue their employers for work-related injuries. One important exception to this rule applies in situations where an employer intentionally harms you. An example is when an employer knowingly exposes an employee to a toxic substance in the workplace.

If your company injured you on purpose, you could file a personal injury lawsuit against them.

If successful in a lawsuit, you can receive compensation for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Future lost earning capacity
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Property damage

Most states require the vast majority of employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance.

If you suffer physical injuries on the job and your employer unlawfully fails to provide workers’ comp coverage, then you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the company. If successful, you could receive the same compensation listed above, including pain and suffering.

Third-Party Injury Claims and Lawsuits

There are times when someone other than an employer or co-worker injures a worker in the course of their employment.

Consider a car accident scenario, where you’re running a work-related errand in the company car and another motorist T-bones your vehicle while running a red light. The at-fault driver is a third party to your workers’ comp claim.  You have the right to file an injury claim against the third party for damages – including pain and suffering.

Likewise, you may have grounds for a third-party lawsuit against the manufacturer of defective machinery or tools that contributed to causing your workplace injury.

Mental Health Difficulties Resulting from Work Injuries

There are cases when a worker develops a mental or emotional disorder because of a work-related injury.

For example, if you suffer a back injury at work, you may later suffer from depression because the injury prevents you from enjoying certain activities. Or, maybe the injury results in you developing a sleeping disorder.

In these cases, you may qualify for additional compensation under your state’s workers’ compensation system. State laws treat these later mental or emotional disorders as “compensable consequences” of your work-related injury.

While you’ll receive compensation for these consequences, the amount you recover isn’t technically a pain and suffering award. The compensation is given to help you pay for treating the mental or emotional disorder.

Social Security Disability Benefits

Sometimes a work injury leads to a permanently disabling mental health disorder, making the person unable to return to the workforce. If this occurs, the worker could qualify for Social Security Disability benefits per a “mental disorder classification.”

However, as with compensable consequences, Social Security Disability benefits are not technically a pain and suffering award.

Calculating Pain and Suffering Compensation

When injury victims file a personal injury claim, they can recover two general categories of damages. “Damages” is simply a legal term for the types of compensation that a victim can recover.

The two categories of damages are economic damages and non-economic damages.

Economic damages include measurable losses that a victim incurs because of an injury. These come with an easily identifiable monetary value, like lost wages and medical bills.

Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are damages that a victim incurs that don’t come with a pre-determined value. Pain and suffering is a non-economic loss. In particular, pain and suffering damages are paid to compensate for the physical and emotional distress that someone experiences after an injury.

Calculating Pain and Suffering

State laws don’t provide precise formulas or instructions to determine how much you should receive for your pain and suffering.

But a common way to calculate these damages is to use a multiplier. This method assumes someone’s pain and suffering is worth a multiple of their economic damages.

In using this method, you’d add together all of your economic damages, then multiply this total by a number between one and five.

Deciding on a multiplier to account for pain and suffering:

  • A 1 to 1.5 multiplier would be a fair way to calculate pain and suffering compensation if you’ve recovered from mild injuries.
  • You’d use a mid-range multiplier of  2 to 4 for more significant injuries with chronic pain, loss of enjoyment of life, or a long and difficult recovery.
  • The highest multipliers, 5 and above, are used for catastrophic injuries, like a severe traumatic brain injury, disabling spinal cord injury, or multiple amputations.

If you were injured at work and suffered only minor injuries, you can file a workers’ compensation claim on your own and work with your state’s workers’ comp system to receive the benefits you’re entitled to. While these benefits won’t include pain and suffering, you should receive them within a few weeks of the date of your injury.

Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Can Help

A personal injury attorney may not guarantee that you’ll receive pain and suffering for your work injury, but if you’ve been fully or partially disabled they can help you get a fair workers’ compensation settlement.

Most injury attorneys provide free consultations to injured workers, and most states limit the fees an attorney can charge for a worker’s compensation case.

If you’ve experienced a significant job injury with serious medical issues, you owe it to yourself to get good legal advice from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

Dustin Reichard, Esq. is an experienced attorney with 20 years of work in the legal field. He’s admitted to the Illinois State Bar and the Washington State Bar. Dustin has worked in the areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, slip and falls, and general liability. Dustin began his legal career as a JAG... Read More >>