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Explaining "Pain and Suffering" Awards: The Role of Injury Characteristics and Fault Attributions

NCJ Number
Law and Human Behavior Volume: 21 Issue: 2 Dated: (April 1997) Pages: 181-207
R L Wissler; D L Evans; A J Hart; M M Morry; M J Saks
Date Published
27 pages
This research explored factors thought to affect compensatory awards for non-economic harm ("pain and suffering") in personal injury cases.
The aim of the current research was to understand people's perceptions of various injuries and how those perceptions are translated into noneconomic compensatory damages awards in personal injury cases. Experiment 1 examined how the nature and severity of the injury, as well as the nature of its cause and the defendant's responsibility for it, affected perceptions of the harm suffered, assessments of the parties' fault, and awards for pain and suffering. Using a broader spectrum of injury types, Experiment 2 further explored the affect of injury severity on injury perceptions and awards. In addition, both studies examined the extent to which individuals' subjective perceptions of injuries predicted their awards. Experiment 1 showed that the nature and severity of the plaintiff's injury had a strong effect on perceptions of the extent of harm suffered and on award amounts. The parties' relatively active or passive roles in causing the injury affected assessments of their degree of fault, but perceived fault had little influence on awards. Experiment 2 replicated with more varied cases the strong impact of injury severity on harm perception and on awards for pain and suffering. In both studies, the disability and the mental suffering associated with injuries were stronger predictors of awards than were pain and disfigurement. 6 tables and 79 references