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Could Objective Measurements of Pain Make Personal Injury Settlements Easier to Estimate?

July 5th, 2018
By Zach Christiansen of The Bowling Law Firm, A Professional Law Corporation on Thursday, July 5, 2018.

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana. Personal injury lawyers are uniquely aware of the subjectivity of assessing pain. On a scale of 1 to 10, one person’s 9 might be another person’s 8. A broken leg for a patient who works in an office might not be a big deal, while a broken leg for an elite athlete might mean the end of a season or even a career. Pain is subjective. Its subjectivity can sometimes make personal injury claims challenging. While victims are entitled to seek damages for pain and suffering, these damages are often based on the cost of medical care multiplied by another number known as a “multiplier.” The more serious a person’s injuries, the higher the multiplier. For example, a person suffering from permanent paralysis due to spinal cord injury might get a higher multiplier than a person suffering from a broken bone. But the multiplier is a crude method, just as the current pain scale doctors use to assess pain.

Is there a better way?

The New Yorker recently reported on a new MRI imaging study that is attempting to create a more objective system for measuring patient pain. Patients are placed in a specialized MRI and are subjected to a range of tests that can cause pain. Some of the painful tests are minor, while some are excruciating. The tests allow doctors to image the patient’s pain, giving them a better sense of what’s going on in a person’s brain when pain happens.

Yet, could this testing improve personal injury claims? Could having an objective measure make claims easier to pursue? The method is not likely to become the norm anytime soon. There are only about 100 or so of the specialized MRIs available. Furthermore, pain and suffering damages are often much more than about physical pain. After all, the psychological effects of a spinal cord injury won’t necessarily be recorded as a physical pain sensation. According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, many factors of spinal cord injury can contribute to a person’s experience of depression, including loss of independence, fatigue, and changes in body image–each of which is not directly associated with the physiological experience of pain.

Pain is a unique sensation. Unlike other sensations, like hearing, there’s no particular brain region responsible for registering pain. Researchers also found that pain anticipation could make pain worse, as when a burn patient needs to undergo regular daily bandage changes that can be incredibly painful. Distraction could reduce pain. Depression could increase it. Researchers also found that when they showed religious icons to religious subjects, the subjects perceived painful events as less painful.

An MRI scan isn’t going to change the way pain and suffering claims are handled, because pain remains a largely subjective experience. Pain can be reduced with cognitive behavioral therapy. It has a robust psychological component. At the end of the day, if you’ve suffered a catastrophic injury, the The Bowling Law Firm, personal injury attorneys in New Orleans, Louisiana, will still use personal injury formulas to determine your damages–and this is a good thing. Our Firm can review your case and use formulas along with evidence about the way your life has changed after your accident to support your claim. Visit us at to learn more.

The Bowling Law Firm, A Professional Law Corporation

1615 Poydras Street, Suite 1050

New Orleans, Louisiana, 70112

Phone: (504) 586-5200

Toll Free: (504) 586-5200

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