California Law: Pain and Suffering Damages


An Introductory Guide to Pain and Suffering Damages Law in California

If you have ever suffered from something that is invisible to the naked eye – fear and depression for example – you know how challenging these problems are. This article breaks down California’s legal stance on pain and suffering damages.

In Legal Terms

In the legal world, the word “damages” refers to the financial settlements available to victims of negligence. In other words, damages are the money people receive as compensation for being injured or harmed.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of damages: Economic and Non-Economic. Economic damages are things such as medical bills or loss of wages. On the other hand, Non-economic damages are usually internal difficulties such as pain and suffering.


A person is in a car accident and breaks their leg. The medical fee’s; mechanical repair fee’s; and lost wages that resulted from the accident will all be awarded as economic damages. Financial losses like these are easily settled, but what about the trouble this person went through? 

The trauma that comes with serious accidents is what is settled for with non-economic damages.

Possible Non-Economic Damages in California

  • Pain 
  • Suffering 
  • Scarring
  • Shock
  • Grief
  • Humiliation
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Inconvenience 
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of a limb or organ
  • Inability to engage in pleasurable activities
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

Calculation of Pain and Suffering

In California, there is no fixed method for the jury to decide on which amount of damages should be awarded. As a result, the plaintiff must demonstrate that they have suffered, and/or will suffer in the future. Based on the evidence available, the jury will then make a decision on the amount of compensation that is needed.

Physical injury is not a necessary requirement for claiming damages of pain and suffering. Most importantly, if a plaintiff’s emotional distress has resulted from another person’s negligence then they might be due compensation. However, non-economic damage claims are more successful alongside the occurrence of a physical injury. This is especially true in the following cases:

  • The injury results in permanent disfigurement or long-term loss of function
  • Medical bills are high
  • Injuries can be verified by x-rays, lab tests or other objective criteria, 
  • Recovery was difficult and/or took a long time

Demonstrating Pain and Suffering

Recovering non-economic damages in cases involving little or no physical injury is easier when the plaintiff has sought some form of mental health counselling. Therefore, testimony from a professional can go a long way to demonstrate the reality of what are often subjective illnesses (only the person can tell that they are suffering from them). Pain and suffering come in many forms such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Similar symptoms that are not easy to establish with objective tests

Proving damages for pain and suffering can be difficult. It is often easier to establish with objective evidence such as:

  • Medical records,
  • X-rays,
  • Photos of property damage and physical injuries,
  • Comprehensive doctors’ and therapists’ notes;
  • Before and after videos showing the plaintiff’s activity level;
  • Social media posts, texts, and emails 
  • Testimony of friends, co-workers, and family;
  • Evidence of lost work time; and
  • Expert testimony regarding medical suffering, lost earning capacity and anything else that could be relevant.

Types of Claims

California, along with the majority of the states, does not allow for pain and suffering damages to be paid out from worker’s compensation claims. However, it is possible to receive pain and suffering damages in the following cases:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Car accidents
  • Intentional Injury
  • Defective Products
  • Slip and fall
  • Wrongful death

Time Limits on Non-Economic Damages Claims

California’s state-imposed statutes of limitations require lawsuits to be filed within a certain set period of time. In the case of Non-Economic damages the time limits are:

  • 2 years in most cases
  • 1-3 years for medical malpractice

This is a brief and generalized breakdown of non-economic damages as they are coded in California law. As a result, the full picture will often more complex and can be better understood with the help and guidance of a legal professional.

If you are dealing with emotional stress as the result of an accident, you are entitled to compensation for that suffering. At California.LAW we work alongside the best legal professionals in the state. A legal professional will help you obtain the damages you deserve