Pain and Suffering Damages Cases in California

In Capelouto v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals (1972) 7 Cal.3d 889, 892-896, the Supreme Court discussed the basic principles governing pain and suffering damages. The question before the court was whether an infant could recover damages for pain and suffering accompanying a salmonella infection contracted in the hospital following her birth. The trial court had instructed the jury no pain and suffering damages could be awarded because of the plaintiff's age. The jury awarded the precise amount of medical expenses. The trial court denied the plaintiff's new trial motion. (Id. at pp. 891-892.) The Supreme Court held: "'If a cause of action is otherwise established, it is settled that damages may be given for mental suffering naturally ensuing from the acts complained of.' (State Rubbish etc. Assn. v. Siliznoff (1952) 38 Cal.2d 330, 338.) In general, courts have not attempted to draw distinctions between the elements of 'pain' on the one hand, and 'suffering' on the other; rather, the unitary concept of 'pain and suffering' has served as a convenient label under which a plaintiff may recover not only for physical pain but for fright, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, mortification, shock, humiliation, indignity, embarrassment, apprehension, terror or ordeal. (Crisci v. Security Ins. Co. (1967) 66 Cal.2d 425, 433; Werchick, Unmeasurable Damages and a Yardstick (1966) 17 Hastings L.J. 263.) Admittedly, these terms refer to subjective states, representing a detriment which can be translated into monetary loss only with great difficulty. (Seffert v. Los Angeles Transit Lines, supra, 56 Cal.2d at pp. 511-512 (dissenting opinion of Traynor, J.); McCormick on Damages (1935) pp. 318-319.) But the detriment, nevertheless, is a genuine one that requires compensation (Civ. Code, 3333; State Rubbish etc. Assn. v. Siliznoff, supra, 38 Cal.2d 330), and the issue generally must be resolved by the 'impartial conscience and judgment of jurors who may be expected to act reasonably, intelligently and in harmony with the evidence.' (Beagle v. Vasold (1966) 65 Cal.2d 166, 181; cf. Seffert v. Los Angeles Transit Lines, supra, 56 Cal.2d at p. 507.) Indeed, mental suffering frequently constitutes the principal element of tort damages (Rest.(2d) Torts, 905, com. c); awards which fail to compensate for pain and suffering have been held inadequate as a matter of law. (Clifford Ruocco (1952) 39 Cal.2d 327, 329; Haskins v. Holmes, supra, 252 Cal.App.2d at pp. 586-587; Buniger v. Buniger (1967) 249 Cal.App.2d 50, 54; Gallentine v. Richardson (1967) 248 Cal.App.2d 152, 155; Chinnis v. Pomona Pump Co. (1940) 36 Cal.App.2d 633, 642-643; Bencich v. Market St. Ry. Co., supra, 20 Cal.App.2d at p. 522.)" (Capelouto v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, supra, 7 Cal.3d at pp. 892-893.)