What Does “Pain and Suffering” Mean In a Car Accident Settlement?
It is not unusual for personal injury attorneys to seek damages for pain and suffering in a car accident settlement. But the average person might not understand the legal definition of “pain and suffering”…or how to put a price on it.
Pain and suffering refers to the non-economic costs associated with a personal injury case. Unlike medical services or lost wages, there is no clear cut monetary value. Nevertheless, victims deserve something to make up for what they have gone through, especially when it is due to the negligence of another driver.
Explaining Pain and Suffering in Personal Injury Cases
The economic costs of personal injuries in a car accident are easy to understand. Many things that are necessary to treat the injured person can be calculated to the penny: Emergency services, doctor’s bills, surgery, medications, stitches, physical therapy, etc. Add to that money lost due to time away from work. The at-fault driver’s insurance company will usually have no trouble reimbursing these costs, as long as the injuries are a direct result of the crash and the crash was their policy holder’s fault.
But what if a victim experiences pain and discomfort during the healing process? Or what if they suffer from lingering effects of the crash after their medical treatment is complete? What about permanent disfigurement or disabilities?
Insurance companies and the court system recognize that these things can change a victim’s life in a significant way. And those non-economic costs deserve compensation in addition to the straightforward reimbursement of economic costs.
The Physical and Mental Toll of an Accident
Pain and suffering can be broken down into two categories. First, there is the physical pain and discomfort of the accident injuries. It can also include the inconvenience of being laid up, or needing to use a cane, walker, or wheel chair to get around. All of these can keep a person from their normal daily activities. They might not be able to drive, work, or care for themselves or their children while they heal. A car accident injury can also leave a victim with a permanent disability or lifelong, chronic pain.
The other part of pain and suffering is the mental anguish of dealing with the physical pain (and its treatment,) or from the traumatic experience itself. This can show up as a number of psychological and emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, fear, anger, grief, shock, mood swings, insomnia, loss of enjoyment in life, or PTSD. Even though these conditions are not visible like broken bones, scars, or burns, they are just as real—and can be just as debilitating.
Assigning a Value to Pain and Suffering
When adding pain and suffering to a car accident settlement, there is no universal method of coming up with a dollar amount. Attorneys can technically request whatever they feel is fair for their clients. Some states have caps on pain and suffering compensation, but Missouri and Illinois do not.
There are guidelines, however, that are typically used by attorneys and insurance companies to come up with an amount that is considered reasonable by both parties. Juries are also told about these guidelines and instructed to use common sense and their life experience when calculating what a victim’s pain and suffering is worth.
The two most common ways of determining pain and suffering are the multiplier method and the per diem method.
The most used method is the multiplier method. First, the total economic damages (medical bills plus lost wages) are calculated. This total is multiplied by a number, usually between 1 and 5 with the resulting amount making up the pain and suffering portion of the settlement.
For example, if a victim’s injuries cost $10,000 and the insurance company (or jury) chooses 3 as a multiplier, the victim would be awarded $10,000 in reimbursable expense, plus $30,000 (3x$10,000) in pain and suffering, for a total of $40,000.
The multiplier chosen takes into account a number of factors such as:
- the severity of the injury
- the length of time to heal
- the ability or inability to resume work
- the impact on quality of life
- the impact on enjoyment of life
- the impact on the victim’s relationships
The worse the accident and the injuries, the higher the multiplier. Pain and suffering that is not too serious and will heal within a few months would have a low multiplier. A catastrophic incident resulting in permanent disabilities like paralysis or loss of limbs, disfiguring scars or burns, or long-term issues like a traumatic brain injury are assigned a much higher multiplier.
Per Diem Method
Less common is the per diem method. The settlement consists of a daily dollar amount, multiplied by the number of days until the victim is well. This relies on the assumption that the injured party will be “back to normal” by a specific time. And placing the value of a person’s day can be complicated and a source of debate.
For example, a victim suffers an injury that will require a year’s worth of physical therapy. Current and future bills for treatment add up to $10,000. The victim’s doctor estimates that at the end of treatment, they should be pain-free and back to normal activities. The insurance company might place a value of $100 on each day. The total award would be $10,000 of reimbursable expenses, plus $36,500 (365x$100) in pain and suffering, for a total of $46,500.
Regardless of the method of determining its value, the pain and suffering portion of a car accident settlement can be significant.
Gathering Proof For Non-Economic Damages
Because measuring pain and suffering is subjective, personal injury lawyers must provide evidence of their client’s situation.
Medical records detailing the severity of personal injuries help tell the story of what the victim must deal with now and in the future. Statements from the victim as well as their family and friends can explain daily physical and emotional struggles associated with their injuries. The use of expert testimony from doctors and mental health professionals adds credibility to the claims.
Juries awarding compensation for pain and suffering often pay close attention to the plaintiff. A victim whose story is credible, consistent, and told without exaggeration might be more likely to get a generous car accident settlement. A jury will be more sympathetic to victims who did not share in the liability for the crash, and who have credible evidence to support their claims.
Pain and Suffering Is Appropriate for a Wide Range of Cases
An accident without serious physical injuries can still cause debilitating mental anguish. Perhaps a driver might develop insomnia, or have severe anxiety when they try to get behind the wheel again. And the trauma of a bad car crash can result in PTSD.
In other cases, the physical injuries and how they impact the person are obvious. Being confined to a wheelchair, being blinded, or having disfiguring scars, for example. Even non-permanent injuries could warrant a large pain and suffering settlement. Take, for example, someone who is laid up for months and unable to take a lucrative job offer. A jury might award a significant settlement as compensation.
Car accident settlements are meant to make the victim whole. That means compensating them for not only the treatment of injuries and recouping financial losses, but making up for their pain and suffering too.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney About Pain and Suffering
Healing physically and emotionally after a car crash is different for everyone. When it is a struggle, or if it drastically changes one’s abilities and lifestyle, victims deserve compensation.
Car accident settlements that include pain and suffering can compensate a victim for their short-term inconvenience or for a life that is completely and permanently changed. A personal injury attorney like Hipskind & McAninch can help assess the impact on a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing and how to place a value on it.