Understanding Pain and Suffering Policy Limits in Illinois


    As a plaintiff's personal injury lawyer, it's crucial to understand the nuances of pain and suffering damages in the context of Illinois law. This article aims to provide an in-depth exploration of whether there are policy limits on pain and suffering in Illinois. We'll delve into the legal framework, discuss relevant cases, and offer insights to help plaintiffs navigate their claims effectively.

    Understanding Pain and Suffering Damages

    Pain and suffering refers to the non-economic damages a plaintiff experiences due to an injury. This element of damages, as the name suggests, seeks to compensate injured folks for the physical pain they experience as a result of an injury. Please note that the impact injuries have on injured folks’ ability to participate in activities of daily living and hobbies is covered under a separate element of damages titled, “Loss of Normal Life”, which will be covered in a future blog. Unlike economic damages, such as medical bills, other medical expenses, or lost wages, pain and suffering are subjective and do not have a fixed monetary value.

    Illinois Law on Pain and Suffering Damages

    In Illinois, the law recognizes the right of an injured party to seek compensation for both economic and non-economic damages, including pain and suffering. These damages are typically part of personal injury claims resulting from automobile accidents, medical malpractice, slip and fall incidents, and other torts.

    In Illinois, the determination of pain and suffering damages, as with most personal injury cases, largely rests on the jury's judgment. Jurors are instructed to consider the nature, extent, and duration of the injury as well as the disability or disfigurement it causes. However, since pain and suffering are subjective, jurors' assessments can vary significantly from case to case.

    Key Considerations in Illinois Jury Instructions

    Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions (IPI) provide guidance on how juries should consider these damages. The IPI advises juries to consider:

    - The impact of the injuries on the overall quality of life.

    - The duration and intensity of pain.

    - Any aggravation of a pre-existing condition.

    - The mental suffering experienced, including anxiety, depression, or trauma.

    Real-Life Examples in Illinois Cases

    1. McKey v. Occidental Fire & Casualty Co.: In this case, the plaintiff was awarded a significant sum for pain and suffering following a car accident. The award was upheld despite the insurer’s argument that it was excessive. This case illustrates how juries can award substantial amounts for pain and suffering, reflecting the severity and impact of the injuries.

    2. Calles v. Scripto-Tokai Corp.: In this product liability case, the plaintiff suffered severe burns due to a defective lighter. The jury’s award for pain and suffering was substantial, reflecting the serious nature of the burns and the ongoing pain and trauma experienced by the plaintiff.

    3. Simmons v. Homatas: This case involved a wrongful death and dram shop liability where the court considered the pain and suffering of the victims before death. The judgment included significant compensation for the brief period of pain and suffering endured.

    Challenges in Quantifying Pain and Suffering

    It is important that jurors understand why allowing damages for pain and suffering is important. This is a key role in an attorney’s advocacy of a client.   

    The Role of Evidence

    Strong evidence is crucial in substantiating claims for pain and suffering. This includes medical records, expert testimony, the plaintiff's testimony about their daily life, and testimonies from family and friends about the plaintiff's lifestyle changes.

    In summary, while Illinois law does not impose statutory caps on pain and suffering damages in most personal injury cases, the actual award amounts are determined on a case-by-case basis, heavily influenced by the evidence presented and jury discretion. As attorneys, it's essential to compile a comprehensive portfolio of evidence to effectively argue for fair compensation for our clients' pain and suffering. Each case presents unique challenges and opportunities in advocating for the rights of those who have suffered due to another's negligence or wrongdoing.

    Are There Policy Limits?

    The concept of policy limits refers to the maximum amount an insurance policy will pay for a covered loss. In Illinois:

    1. Auto Insurance: For auto accidents, Illinois law requires drivers to carry liability insurance with minimum policy limits. However, these limits apply to the total liability coverage and not specifically to pain and suffering. The actual amount recoverable from car insurance companies for pain and suffering will depend on the specifics of the policy and the case.

    2. Medical Malpractice: In medical malpractice cases, Illinois had a history of legislative attempts to cap pain and suffering damages from medical treatment. However, the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled such caps as unconstitutional. As a result, there are no specific statutory limits on pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice cases in Illinois.

    3. Other Personal Injury Cases: For other types of personal injury claims, there are no specific statutory caps on pain and suffering in Illinois. The recoverable amount is generally determined by the jury's discretion, guided by the evidence presented regarding the plaintiff's suffering and the impact of their injuries.

    Determining the Value of Pain and Suffering

    Valuing pain and suffering is complex and subjective. Factors influencing the valuation include:

    • Severity and permanence of the injury
    • Impact on quality of life
    • Psychological and emotional trauma
    • Plaintiff's personal testimony and diary entries
    • Expert testimony (e.g., psychologists, doctors)
    • Methods of Calculation:

    Factors Affecting the Value

    • Severity of the injury.
    • Duration of pain and recovery time.
    • Impact on daily life and activities.
    • Permanent or long-term effects.
    • Emotional and psychological trauma.
    • Credibility and empathy towards the plaintiff.

    Real-Life Examples

    1. John Doe v. XYZ Corporation (Hypothetical):

    •   Injury: Severe back injury from a workplace accident.
    •   Economic Damages: $100,000 (medical bills and lost wages).
    •   Multiplier Used: 4 (due to severe and long-lasting injury).
    •   Pain and Suffering Damages: $400,000.
    •   Rationale: The severe nature of the injury, chronic pain, and impact on Doe's quality of life justified a higher multiplier.

    2. Jane Smith v. ABC Hospital (Hypothetical):

    •    Injury: Emotional distress from a medical malpractice case.
    •    Economic Damages: $50,000.
    •    Per Diem Approach: $200/day for distress.
    •    Total Days of Suffering: 365 days.
    •    Pain and Suffering Damages: $73,000.
    •    Rationale: The daily rate was based on the psychological impact of the malpractice, and the duration reflected the time taken for Smith to emotionally recover. Please note that attorneys in Illinois cannot explicitly ask a jury to award damages using the “per diem” approach.

    3. Real Case: Simmons v. Homatas:

       - This case involved a wrongful death and dram shop liability. The court considered the pain and suffering of the victims before death, including the terror and physical pain experienced. The judgment included significant compensation for this brief but intense period of pain and suffering, showcasing the court's recognition of non-economic damages even in short-lived instances.

    Jury's Role and Limitations

    In Illinois, juries have significant discretion in awarding pain and suffering damages. However, these awards can be subject to reduction if deemed "excessive" or "shocking to the judicial conscience." In some cases, appellate courts have reduced awards they found to be out of proportion to the injuries suffered.

    Determining the value of pain and suffering in Illinois personal injury cases is a complex and nuanced process. It involves not only a consideration of the physical and emotional impact on the plaintiff but also a strategic approach in presenting the case. Real-life examples demonstrate how these damages can vary significantly based on the specifics of each case. For personal injury attorneys in Illinois, effectively arguing for these non-economic damages requires a combination of legal acumen, empathy, and a deep understanding of the human aspects of each injury.

    The Role of Insurance in Settlements

    It's important to note that while there may be no legal cap on pain and suffering, the defendant's insurance policy limits can affect the practical recovery amount. If the policy limit is less than what the plaintiff should receive for pain and suffering, the plaintiff might not be able to recover the full amount unless the defendant has additional assets.

    Delving deeper into the role of insurance in settlements, especially in the context of pain and suffering damages in Illinois personal injury cases:

    Insurance Policy Limits

    - In many personal injury cases, the defendant's insurance policy plays a crucial role in determining the settlement amount. Each policy has a maximum limit that it will pay out for a particular claim.

    - These limits often define the upper boundary of what a plaintiff can realistically recover, regardless of the jury's award for pain and suffering.

    Negotiation Dynamics

    - The negotiation process with insurance companies is pivotal. Insurance adjusters often start with a lower offer than what the plaintiff's claim might be worth, especially for pain and suffering.

    - Attorneys must skillfully negotiate to increase this offer, using evidence of the client’s pain and suffering to justify higher compensation.

    Examples of Insurance's Role in Settlements

    1. Car Accident Case (Hypothetical):

    •    Scenario: A plaintiff suffers significant injuries in a car accident. The at-fault driver has an insurance policy with a limit of $100,0000 per person, $250,000 per person, $500,000 per occurrence.
    •    Economic Damages: $100,000.
    •    Initial Pain and Suffering Offer: $50,000.
    •    Settlement: After negotiations highlighting the severe and long-lasting impact of the injuries, the settlement for pain and suffering is increased to $150,000, reaching the policy's maximum payout when combined with economic damages.

    2. Slip and Fall Case (Hypothetical):

    •    Scenario: A plaintiff experiences a back injury from a slip and fall at a business.
    •    Business Liability Insurance: $500,000 limit.
    •    Economic Damages: $40,000.
    •    Pain and Suffering Claim: $200,000.
    •    Settlement: The business’s insurance company disputes the extent of the pain and suffering. Eventually, a settlement of $120,000 for pain and suffering is reached, influenced by the policy limit and strength of the evidence.

    3. Real Case Example: Wilson v. Dantas:

       - In this 2019 Illinois case, a $15.2 million verdict was awarded, including significant pain and suffering damages, in a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, the defendant’s insurance policy had a limit, which significantly influenced the final settlement amount. This case illustrates the gap that can exist between jury awards and the practical limits set by insurance policies.

    Underinsured and Uninsured Coverage

    - In cases where the at-fault party's insurance is insufficient to cover the damages, the plaintiff's own underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage can come into play. This insurance coverage can provide additional compensation, particularly relevant in auto accident cases.

    Bad Faith Claims

    If an insurance company unreasonably refuses to settle within policy limits or engages in unfair settlement practices, plaintiffs may have a separate claim for insurance bad faith, which can lead to additional compensation beyond the original policy limits.

    The role of insurance in personal injury settlements in Illinois is significant, often dictating the upper limits of what can be realistically recovered, particularly in the case of pain and suffering damages. Navigating these settlements requires a thorough understanding of insurance law, skilled negotiation, and a comprehensive approach to presenting the client’s damages. The intricate dance between assessed damages, policy limits, and negotiation strategies underscores the complexity of securing fair compensation for pain and suffering in personal injury cases.

    In Illinois, there are no specific statutory policy limits on pain and suffering damages in most personal injury cases, including medical malpractice. The assessment of these damages depends heavily on the circumstances of each case and the evidence presented. As personal injury attorneys, it's our duty to build a strong case that effectively communicates the extent of our clients' suffering and advocates for the maximum possible compensation under the law.

    Working With Palermo Law Group

    If you're navigating the complexities of a pain and suffering claim, Palermo Law Group stands ready to assist you. With a commitment to providing personalized attention and effective legal representation, our experienced attorneys offer a range of services to support you through every step of the process. From the initial free consultation and thorough case evaluation to strategic legal advice tailored to your situation, we prioritize your needs and advocate tirelessly on your behalf. Trust in our reputable law firm to skillfully negotiate with insurance carriers and pursue the compensation you deserve. Let Palermo Law Group be your ally in seeking justice and peace of mind during this challenging time.

    For a free consultation contact our law firm by calling (630)684-2332 or visit our website at


    Mario Palermo is the Founder and Lead Attorney at Palermo Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. For the past 26 years, he has worked tirelessly to help injury victims and their families in their times of need. He is a seasoned authority on civil litigation, and also a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious group of trial lawyers who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Mr. Palermo has been named a “Leading Lawyer” by his peers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

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