What is pain and suffering worth?

Many people may scoff at the idea of personal injury solicitors putting a monetary figure on something like ‘pain and suffering,’ but it happens all the time – what’s someone’s suffering actually worth?

Unless you’ve been in a road traffic accident or experienced some other injury through no fault of your own, it’s hard to realise what kind of a physical and emotional toll being injured can take on a person. The idea of being in constant pain for weeks, months, or even years following a particularly nasty accident – even if it’s just from a whiplash injury – is simply incomprehensible for the lion’s share of people, and in the event of a life-changing injury such as the loss of the ability to walk, it seems almost crass to put a monetary value on that loss.

Sometimes it’s the only way

The problem with serious injuries and deciding how much personal injury compensation someone should receive from the responsible party is that, in the wake of an incident that has seen someone left with crippling injuries, no amount of money will bring back someone’s ability to walk or regain the use of a now missing arm. Brain and spinal cord injury can be particularly tragic, in that all it takes is a single pinched or severed nerve to render someone paralysed for life, leaving them without the ability to live independently or to do everyday tasks without the help of a 24 hour a day, round the clock carer.

In a situation like this, a compensation award for ‘pain and suffering’ is the court’s imperfect solution to an impossible problem. There’s nothing that can ever make a person injured in such a way whole again, so the least that the responsible party can do is to provide enough compensation to enable the injured person to live with at least a modicum of dignity, often through special accommodations fitted to their home or vehicle and specialised staff hired to oversee the person’s needs that they can no longer take care of themselves without aid.

What value is a life?

In certain other instances, such as medical negligence cases of birth injury that results in the tragic death of an infant, the pain and suffering is not of the child itself but of the bereaved parents. The loss of such a young, innocent life through the negligence of a medical professional usually carries the steepest of penalties for the responsible party – often in the millions of pounds – yet the victory is often a hollow one indeed, considering all the money in the world will not restore the child to the grieving mother and father.

There’s a formula for how much a human life is worth, usually involving a relatively complex ratio involving how old the person was when they died, how long they could have expected to live, and how much they could have earned in their lifetime that they now no longer can thanks to their untimely death. This means that compensation for the death of a young person is almost always massive, which is used to succor the grieving family but also to act as a deterrent against future activity by the responsible parties.

Such massive penalties are indeed punitive in nature, with the hopes that fear of incurring such fines in the future will prevent the repeat of history. However, this seldom seems to play a role in the mental processes of those perpetrating the negligence in the first place, which makes each event all that much more tragic in the end.

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