Can I Receive Compensation for Pain and Suffering Under the Defense Base Act? If Not, Why?

You are working at a United States military base overseas.  You are driving for your employment or you are stocking shelves.  Suddenly, another driver runs a red light or a poorly stocked shelf come crashing down on you.  You now have severe injuries as a result.

Under the Defense Base Act you receive compensation for the wages you lose during your recovery period.  You also receive reimbursement for all of your medical costs due to your injuries.  Yet, after you begin healing, you still experience continued pain from your injury.  You find that you cannot engage in the activities that you once enjoyed.  That latter type of physical and emotional stress is considered “pain and suffering.”

You know that the Defense Base Act provides wage loss and medical coverage, so shouldn’t it also compensate you for pain and suffering?  The answer is, unfortunately, no.  The Defense Base Act, like virtually all workers’ compensation programs, does not give compensation for pain and suffering.

We at Doolittle & Tucker know the nuances of the Defense Base Act including which items are compensable and which are not.  We have handled countless Defense Base Act cases for our clients, and we continue to be the trusted “go to” firm for Defense Base Act issues.  With a proven track record of success, Doolittle Tucker is happy to discuss your case, at no cost to you.  Call us to learn more at 904.396.1734.

In this article, we will explore some specifics about pain and suffering.  We will then discuss why the Defense Base Act does not include pain and suffering as a compensable injury.  Finally, we will discover if there are any other options with regard to pain-and-suffering-type injuries.

What is Pain and Suffering?

We hear the term “pain and suffering” quite a bit in our culture, and it is pervasive in the halls of justice.  Typically in any personal injury lawsuit setting, damages for pain and suffering are commonly raised.

In short, pain and suffering refers to the physical and emotional stress that comes with an injury.  It could include aches, temporary or permanent limitations on activity, scarring, or even the potential shortening of one’s life.

For example, assume you were injured in a car crash.  You had several surgeries and physical therapy.  Yet, you find that you are still in a lot of pain, and you feel frustrated that you cannot complete even the most simple tasks or that you cannot enjoy the hobbies that you used to enjoy.  That is pain and suffering.

In most cases, pain and suffering would be included as a type of damage if you are successful in a personal injury lawsuit.  While sometimes difficult to quantify, pain and suffering damages can be a significant portion of any monetary judgment or settlement following the filing of a lawsuit.

Why Doesn’t the Defense Base Act Provide Compensation for Pain and Suffering?  It’s a Lesson in Tradeoffs

Given that an injured worker may clearly experience pain and suffering following a workplace injury – and the pain and suffering is a direct result of the work-related injury – it seems odd (and even unfair) that the Defense Base Act would find that such suffering is not compensable.  There is, however, a public policy reason for why the Defense Base Act does not compensate pain and suffering.

  • The Defense Base Act is a Workers’ Compensation Program

As a threshold matter, it is important to realize that the Defense Base Act is a workers’ compensation program.  As such, it follows the policy reasons applicable to any workers’ compensation plan.  Virtually all, if not all, workers’ compensation plans provide for medical costs and lost wages, but do not provide for pain and suffering.

So, the question becomes, why is pain and suffering excluded?  The answer has to do with the tradeoffs made when workers’ compensation programs were developed.

  • The World Before Workers’ Compensation

Prior to the advent of workers’ compensation, workers would bring a personal injury lawsuit against an employer for a work-related injury.  The worker would then need to prove in court that the injury he or she suffered was, in fact, due to an error on the employer’s part.  That often would be a difficult hurdle for the worker.  Yet, if the worker was successful, then the employer would need to pay considerable damages, including pain and suffering.

Pain and suffering damages were particularly burdensome for employers because the dollar amount was inherently difficult to quantify and sometimes would result in massive payouts to workers.  In some cases, the pain and suffering damages were so substantial that one lawsuit could put an employer out of business.

In the aggregate, the unpredictability and potential for massive monetary payout relating to pain and suffering damages resulted in a great deal of instability for businesses, small businesses in particular.  Indeed, the prospect of one catastrophic injury putting a business into bankruptcy was a true disincentive for people to even open businesses in the first place.

  • Workers’ Compensation To Provide Certainty

In response to the fear of businesses facing overwhelming judgments against them based on one workplace injury case, workers’ compensation was born.  In many ways, workers’ compensation is a win-win for employees and employers.  For both parties, workers’ compensation primarily provides certainty.

With regard to employees, workers’ compensation guarantees compensation for medical expenses and lost wages resulting from a workplace injury, regardless of fault.  Workers do not need to go through the time and expense of proving their case in a court of law.  Also, they do not need to wait until after a long litigation to receive much needed funds for to cover medical expenses.  Finally, they do not need to take the risk of losing in court and getting no compensation at all for their injuries.

With regard to employers, workers’ compensation provides an inexpensive, non-litigation path to compensate injured employees without fear that one catastrophic accident could bankrupt the company.  In that vein, eliminating the potential for pain and suffering damages provided the much-needed certainty that helps businesses thrive.

Therefore, workers’ compensation plans result in almost immediate payout to injured employees (which helps employees), and eliminates the risk of unpredictable litigation for employers (which helps employers).  The tradeoff is that employees, in order to get immediate compensation, give up the ability to seek pain and suffering damages.

Are There Other Options Under Workers’ Compensation?

While it can be problematic that pain and suffering is not available under the Defense Base Act, it is possible to get workers’ compensation for mental health issues such as depression.  Therefore, even though an injured worker cannot make a claim for pain and suffering, a worker may be able to make a claim for compensation to treat depression that is work related.

Doolittle & Tucker’s legal professionals can effectively take care of a Defense Base Act claim for you.  Let us help you explore what options are available for your chronic pain despite the fact that a claim for pain and suffering is not possible.  Giving you the highest quality service, we can help you if you call today.  Our number is 904.396.1734.