What is just? Prof. Dr. Bernhard Hohlbein lectures on compensation for pain and suffering

2022-04-12 In Germany, it is a well-established legal tradition that damages caused are generally to be compensated. When it comes to compensation for pain suffered, however, there is little agreement as to how much money is appropriate. And this is not a recent phenomenon. Rather, the topic has been one of the "saddest chapters" of German civil jurisprudence for more than 50 years. The legitimate question remains: Is there a change in sight?

Prof. Bernd Hohlbein ©© Mathias Paulokat
Hohlbein outlined potential alternative solutions, but pointed out that the development of law is a rather evolutionary process - there will most likely not be any short-term and substantial changes.

Prof. Dr Bernhard Hohlbein from Leuphana Law School specifically explored the question of how much compensation for pain and suffering is just during an open evening lecture organised by the University Society Lüneburg. At the invitation of Prof. Dr. Heike Düselder, Chairwoman of the University Society Lüneburg and Museum Director, Hohlbein also initiated the summer semester of the University Society Tuesday. It is a thematically diverse series of presentations given by lecturers at Leuphana University Lüneburg. There was great interest in Hohlbein's topic: in addition to a well-attended museum, many participants joined in via livestream. As a former student of business law in Lüneburg, I was also drawn back from Berlin to the Hanseatic city that evening.

The long journey was worth it. Hohlbein explained how decisions on compensation for pain and suffering are made in Germany adding a little legal history, the usual bases for claims, and a few examples. And how high - or in some cases: low - they turn out to be. The comparison of sums awarded to prominent injured parties in the context of pain and suffering compensation disputes with the press, and such claims awarded to seriously injured victims of, for example, incorrect medical treatment, raised immediate questions of justice. Questions that Hohlbein, with a few witty remarks, precisely expanded upon and sought to answer. After additional consideration of the usual duration of proceedings in medical liability cases and the relationship of compensation for pain and suffering in contrast to compensation for loss of use of a motor vehicle in the case of purely material damage, the audience raised first concrete questions. Still, Hohlbein identified other problems, such as the conflict of a one-time payment as compensation for ongoing physical or psychological suffering. Is this an appropriate compensation at all or wouldn't a pension payment be more appropriate? And how about the victims who are entitled to compensation but remain uncompensated in the end because they have been harmed by non-solvent and uninsured perpetrators?

Hohlbein outlined potential alternative solutions but pointed out that the development of law is a rather evolutionary process - there will most likely not be any short-term and substantial changes. For as long as jurisdiction remains as it is, the speaker gave the audience a few risk management tips. To mention just one: in view of the high sums involved, even in the case of material damage, it is important to take out private liability insurance. The lively question and answer session in attendance and via stream proved that even a purely legal topic arouses great interest - if it touches on the core issue of justice and is presented in such an entertaining and at the same time knowledgeable manner. Conclusion: A worthwhile evening and a successful start to the summer semester. The University Society Lüneburg deserves praise for the series of presentations and the hybrid format it has chosen.

You can find the University Society's schedule of topics for the summer semester at:


Text and photo: Mathias Paulokat