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Pain and Suffering

Top 11 Questions Every Car Accident Victim Asks

If you are experiencing pain and suffering after your car accident, then you will have a lot of questions about how you can get a fair personal injury settlement amount through the insurance companies.

Everyday we receive hundreds of questions on this topic. We decided to compile the most popular questions asked by our visitors to provide you with a helpful guide so you can maximize your accident claims.

Here are the top 11 questions asked by accident victims :

1. What is Pain and Suffering?
2. What are Some Examples of Pain and Suffering?
3. How Does An Insurance Company Calculate My Settlement Amount?
4. What are Some Examples of Calculating Pain and Suffering?
5. How Can I Raise the Multiple in Accident Settlements?
6. Which Factors affect My Settlement Amount?
7. How Do I Prove My Suffering?
8. What are Some Examples of Emotional Pain?
9. How Do I Know What's a Fair Settlement?
10. Can I Get Compensation after a “Minor” Car Accident
11. Can I Negotiate my Pain and Suffering Settlement?

Let’s get started…

1. What is Pain and Suffering?

Pain and suffering is a legal term that is used to describe the stress someone experiences as a result of an accident.

This stress is divided into 2 broad categories: physical pain and mental/emotional pain. [1]

What is Physical Pain and Suffering?

Physical pain is what you feel due to the actual physical injuries caused by the accident. These injuries could include :

  • Broken bones
  • Neck pain
  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Back pain
  • Muscle/tendon tear

Due to these injuries, your physical pain may:

  • Limit your ability/mobility to perform daily activities
  • Reduce your current quality of life
  • Have potential long term negative consequences

What is Mental / Emotional Pain and Suffering?

Emotional suffering is any pain that is “non-physical”. This form of “psychological” pain stems directly from the physical injuries suffered by the accident victim.

Example: A teenage girl suffers a very visible scar on her left cheek. The scar is the physical injury but her embarrassment and insecurity as a result of her injury is her emotional suffering.

Other examples of emotional suffering include:

  • Humiliation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Anger
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

(For further information, read suing for emotional distress)

2. What are Some Examples of Pain and Suffering?

Now that you have a basic overview of the legal definition, let’s look at a few examples:

Severe Pain and Suffering

Derek is driving to work one morning when he gets t-boned by another car. From the accident Derek sustains multiple broken bones (including his broken femur) and a bad concussion. His broken bones keep him out of the gym for 6 months.

The gym is his way of releasing stress. He finds himself feeling tense and depressed often, which in turn sets off a ripple effect on his ability to sleep, his personal relationships and his work.

He loses his job and starts seeing a therapist for his depression. This is a clear example of suffering after an accident.

Less severe pain and suffering

Kelly is out running errands one day when she gets rear-ended at a stop light. The speed of the other vehicle, fortunately, wasn’t too high and the damage is relatively limited.

The day after the accident she notices her back feels strained. Because of this minor injury she is not able to start on a landscaping project with her husband that she was looking forward to.

Because of this she is annoyed, frustrated and feels a bit helpless. There are no real long term effects and she does not need mental health treatment. But nevertheless, this qualifies as suffering.

As you can see the severity of your accident injuries exists along a spectrum and can range from insignificant to completely debilitating.

3. How Does An Insurance Company Calculate My Pain and Suffering Settlement Amount?

By far the most popular question we receive is “How do I calculate my pain and suffering settlement?”

To answer this question, the first thing you need to understand is how does your pain fit into the overall settlement figure you ultimately receive.

Personal Injury Settlement Amounts = Pain and Suffering + Special Damages

In terms of an accident settlement, your pain and suffering is sometimes referred to as “general damages”. So general damages are the portion of your settlement that you receive due to your physical and emotional pain.

“Special damages” on the other hand is compensation for the specific dollar costs you had as a result of your accident injuries. Typically these include your:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost income
  • Car repairs
  • Prescriptions
  • Physical therapy

General damages tends to be very subjective because it’s hard to precisely calculate how much someone’s physical and emotional suffering is worth.

4. What are Some Methods of Calculating Pain and Suffering?

Despite the inherent vagueness of calculating exactly how much you are suffering, insurance companies are a business and they do have to systemize how they answer this question.

Here are the two primary methods typically used to calculate your settlement amounts:

1. Multiplier method -- Is a way of arriving at a “reasonable” amount by multiplying your other medical expenses by a multiplier. The multiplier is usually between 1.5 - 5 depending on your specific injuries and circumstances.

Example

Your medical bills are $2,000 and your lost wages equal $1,000 for a total of $3,000. The accident was a relatively serious one and the multiplier used is 3, meaning that $3,000 x 3 = a claim settlement of $9,000.

(We’ve written an entire separate article about using the multiplier method to calculate your settlement amount. )

2. Per Diem Method -- “Per Diem” means per day. As the name implies, this method uses a daily rate of reimbursement for your pain. This rate is then multiplied by the number of days between the date of the accident and when you are deemed to have reached maximum medical improvement. (Maximum medical improvement simply means your condition is stabilized and no further improvement is expected [2]. )

Example

Your medical bills are $2,000 and your lost wages equal $1,000 for a total of $3,000. You needed to take medication and see a therapist for 3 months after the accident.

Using the per diem method you could assign a daily value of $100 and multiply by 90 days. 90 x $100 = a settlement amount of $9,000.

This $100 figure might seem completely random, but it shouldn’t be. The daily value should be based on something tangible, such as lost wages.

So which of the 2 methods should you use? Our recommendation is to begin by using a mixture of both. You can also use our settlement calculator to get an initial ballpark figure.

The exact settlement amount you ultimately receive from the insurance companies will depend on your specific circumstances and your ability to negotiate your accident claim.

5. How Can I Raise the Multiplier in Pain and Suffering Settlements?

Most people feel they deserve to have a higher multiplier for their injuries. However, this does not always happen because:

a) Insurance companies will fight to reduce your multiplier in order to ultimately lower your personal injury settlement amount.

b) Most accident victims don’t have a strategy to maximize their multiplier and settlement.

Here are some things you should focus on in order to increase your multiplier:

  • Show your injuries are serious ex: bone fractures, muscle tears, stitches, wounds etc

  • Gather your medical reports that document your injuries

  • Collect evidence (ex: car accident report, witness testimony etc) that shows the accident was primarily due to someone else’s fault, not yours.

  • Document all your treatments, prescriptions, and diagnoses as recommendations from doctors.

  • Identify potential long term consequences of your injuries

  • Keep track of your length of recovery

  • Record your emotional pain ex: through journaling

You should aim to have all of your injuries be easily verified by your doctors, medical reports, x-rays, CAT scans etc.

Without these documents it will be tough for you to convince the insurance companies (or a potential jury) to increase your settlement amount.

So keep track of all of your injuries and treatments.

6. How High Can the Pain and Suffering Multiplier Go?

The standard practice is to use a multiplier between 1.5- 5 of your medical costs. However, the multiplier can be increased due to the specific circumstances of your accident injuries.

For example, let’s revisit the teenage scarred girl from the previous discussion. Let’s assume her total costs after the accident were $1,500 and assign her a multiplier of 5.

Using the multiplier method we get:

Special Damages: $1,500

Multipler : 5

Settlement Amount = 5 x $1,500

Settlement Amount =$7,500

However, this is not the end of the story. As we discussed before, her scarring could have caused her severe emotional damage. For example, it’s possible that as a result of her scar she :

  • Felt intense embarrassment
  • Was taunted and ridiculed by her classmates
  • Suffered severe depression and anxiety

So a multiplier of 5 simply doesn’t make any sense here. It’s too low. Given her young age and the potential of the long term emotional pain she will suffer, the multiplier could be 20 or even 50.

As we’ve said before, there is a level of subjectivity involved when trying to finalize how much someone’s injuries are worth. And that will always boil down to your specific injuries and how they affected you.

So the main take away is that there isn’t a hard ceiling on how high the multiplier can go. We suggest that you start with the basic multiplier range between 1.5 and 5 and then adjust the multiplier based on your unique circumstances.

7. How Do I Prove My Pain and Suffering?

As we’ve already mentioned proving how much you are suffering can be tricky because of its subjective nature. That said here are five ways to prove your claim:

  1. Intensity. The stronger or more intense the mental effect on you is the easier it will be to prove. For example, someone suffering with severe PTSD.

  2. Duration. Injuries that occurs over a longer period of time are easier to prove. If you’ve got a paper trail or a chronology of stress or depression you have a higher chance of proving your claim.

  3. Associated physical symptoms. It’s hard to demonstrate depression, but if you can point to ulcers, headaches or other physicals signs of distress you should be in good shape.

  4. Underlying cause. The more traumatic the cause the more likely you are to be believed. If you’re in an accident involving fatalities convincing people it’s affected you mentally should be straightforward.

  5. Medical records. Chart notes, doctors notes, diagnosis, treatment plans -- you name it -- the more medical documentation you have the better your chances are.

8. What are Some Examples of Emotional Pain and Suffering?

Emotional (or non-physical ) pain can take many different forms. Some of the most common ones include [4]:

  • Anxiety & fear
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Weight gain
  • Frustration
  • Insomnia
  • Bitterness & irritability
  • Mood swings

Given that all of these things can be a bit abstract, be sure to frame things in terms of their affects on your life, job, relationships, etc whenever you’re speaking to an insurance company. For more depth check out our article on suing for emotional distress.

9. How Do I Know What's a Fair Pain and Suffering Settlement?

What is considered “fair” may vary quite a bit person to person and situation to situation. If you’ve used one of the previously discussed methods of how to calculate your settlements odds are that you are at least within the vicinity of “fairness”.

We’ve also provided several examples of personal injury settlement amounts for various types of accidents. We suggest you read the examples and compare to how they relate to your specific situation

If you still need help you can always use our free estimate as well.

10. Can I Be Compensated After a “Minor” Car Accident?

The simple answer is yes, you may be entitled to compensation for a “minor” accident. The longer answer is the more minor the accident the harder it will be to prove using the elements we discussed. If you have missed time from work this can help to make an insurance claim for a minor accident.

11. Can I Negotiate My Pain and Suffering Award?

Of course you can. The truth is many insurance companies will try to convince you to accept their lowest settlement check. However, you are under no obligation to accept their first settlement offer.

We’ve written an entire separate article on negotiating low settlement offers that you might find helpful.

Summary

Pain and suffering is an all too real byproduct of many car accidents. Due to it’s subjective and vague nature, it can be hard for accident victims to know how to be properly compensated. The most important things to keep in mind are:

  • Both physical and emotional pain are included in your settlement amount.

  • Insurance companies typically use the multiplier or per diem method to calculate damages.

  • You can increase your settlement amount by documenting your injuries (medical notes, physical symptoms, etc)

  • Proving your pain is challenging (especially for minor accidents) but not impossible.

  • You should always be prepared to negotiate and to advocate for yourself.


Sources:

[1] Legal Dictionary

[2] US Legal


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