Claiming for Pain and Suffering in Personal Injury Cases: How Much Compensation Can You Expect to Get?
In any personal injury case, whether arising from a traffic, e-scooter or workplace accident, or one caused by the negligent act of another party, there are 2 main categories of damages that are generally available to the claimant, or injured party – special damages and general damages.
Special damages compensate the injured party for any economic losses that he or she has suffered as a result of the accident or negligent act. These can include costs incurred for medical and hospitalisation bills, loss of income when the injured party is unable to work, and repair or replacement of damaged property, if any. Special damages are therefore easily quantifiable and in legal proceedings, receipts of expenses that have been incurred as a result of the personal injury suffered would assist the court in reaching a settlement amount.
General damages on the other hand, include claims for non-economic losses suffered to the person (i.e. the claimant), the most common of which is pain and suffering. In these circumstances, it is important to note that pain and suffering is not solely confined to the physical pain or discomfort that the injured individual suffers, but also includes ‘mental suffering’ or psychiatric disorders– for example, emotional distress or anxiety attacks which the claimant may suffer post-accident or injury.
As compared to special damages, general damages are not easily quantifiable, it can be challenging to accurately assess the amount of general damages that should be payable to a claimant.
In the absence of any well-defined legal standards, here’s a brief overview of the approach that is generally undertaken to quantifying general damages in Singapore.
Quantifying general damages in Singapore
The State Courts of Singapore, together with the Singapore Academy of Law, have published a reference book entitled Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury Cases. This is a helpful guide used by lawyers in advising their clients on the estimated amount of damages that can be expected from a wide range of injuries, such as psychiatric disorders.
An example of a Singapore case when these guidelines were applied by the Court is Chang Mui Hoon v Lim Bee Leng. The parties were involved in a road traffic accident and the claimant sought general damages in respect of a whiplash injury to her neck, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, as well as for future medical expenses and loss of earning capacity. She also sought special damages for medical expenses, maid expenses, transport expenses and pre-trial loss of income.
In this case, the Court referred to the Guidelines in order to assess the quantum of for the claimant’s alleged psychiatric injuries. The Guidelines list out various factors that can aid a court when assessing the amount of damages payable for the stated injury.
For example, in a claim for damages for general psychiatric injury, some of the factors a Court can take into consideration include:
- The person’s ability to cope with life and work in general as compared to his or her pre-trauma state;
- The effect on the person’s relationships with family, friends and those with whom he or she comes into contact with;
- Whether the person is suicidal as a result of his or her psychiatric condition;
- Whether medical help has been sought;
- The extent to which treatment would be successful;
- The extent to which medication affects the person’s work and social life;
- Whether the person adheres faithfully to counselling sessions and takes his or her medication;
- The risk of relapse in the future; and
- The chances of full recovery in the future.
It is also important to note that the quantum of damages payable for such injuries correspond according to their level of severity. For example, according to the Guidelines, where the injury is deemed to be relatively minor in nature, the amount of damages will typically range from between S$1,000 to $3,000.
General Principles in Quantifying Damages
At present, the use of guidelines continues to play an important role in assisting the courts in their assessment of damages for pain and suffering. It must be remembered that an award for damages, whether general or special, is not intended to be punitive, but compensatory in nature, and the final award of damages that is reached has to be one that is reasonable in the circumstances. Singapore’s current approach also avoids the problems faced in other jurisdictions, like in the USA, where the quantum of damages awarded for pain and suffering is often an arbitrary one that is largely left to the discretion of a jury.
Ultimately, potential claimants and their lawyers should familiarise themselves with Singapore’s guidelines so as to temper their expectations about the quantum of damages that they are likely to receive when bringing a claim for damages for pain and suffering.
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