Should Your Car Accident Claim Include Pain and Suffering?

The at-fault driver's insurance should pay an injured person some amount for pain and suffering. The question is will they, and how much?

In the context of a car accident case -- whether just an insurance claim or a court-based lawsuit -- the injured person’s “pain and suffering” is taken into consideration when valuing a claim for settlement purposes or assessing a damages award in court.

This article covers the basics of what pain and suffering compensation is, and when you should be able to negotiate compensation for your pain in a car accident settlement or lawsuit award.

Basics – "Damages" in a Car Accident Case

There are two main categories of damages in a car accident case: economic (also called "special" damages) and non-economic (also called "general" damages).

Economic damages include your medical bills, your lost income, the cost to repair or replace your car, and other easily calculated losses stemming from the accident and your injuries. Non-economic damages include losses that aren’t so easy to put a dollar figure on, and these include the “pain and suffering” sub-category of damages.

Pain and suffering usually includes all physical pain and discomfort associated with the injury (and discomfort from necessary medical treatment), but it also includes emotional distress, anxiety, worry, frustration, depression, and other negative effects of the accident and injuries.

Should You Be Compensated for Pain and Suffering?

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, and the fault "clearly" lies with the other driver, you should receive some compensation for your pain. In many car accident cases involving relatively minor injuries, the insurance adjuster representing the at-fault driver will offer a small amount of money for your pain – maybe $500. He or she may also offer the same amount for all the passengers in your car, especially if you had your family in the car during the accident. This tells you that the insurance company recognizes that you deserve something for your pain or inconvenience. The real question is how much should you get.

How Much Should You Get for Pain and Suffering?

It’s not easy to place a dollar amount on your pain and the impact of a car accident on your daily life, but a number of factors often come into play when trying to calculate pain and suffering, including:      

  • the severity of your injuries
  • the amount of pain and discomfort that is typically associated with those injuries
  • the impact of your injuries on your job, your quality of life (sports, hobbies, relationships, etc.)
  • the nature and scope of medical treatment made necessary by the injuries
  • how quickly you are expected to recover from your injuries, and
  • whether you will need to take pain medication because of your injuries and necessary medical treatment.

Methods to Calculate Pain and Suffering Compensation

There’s no law that tells you how much you should be paid for your pain, but there are methods that insurance adjusters and car accident lawyers use to get a starting figure from which to negotiate. Two common methods are the "per-diem" method which uses a dollar amount for every day you had to live with pain, and the “multiplier” method, which is based on a multiple of your medical and lost income damages. You can find out how both of these formulas work in this article.

Negotiating With the Adjuster

The insurance company isn’t going to just roll-over and throw money at you. You’re going to have to make your case, and negotiate.

The more serious your injuries, the larger the potential value of your pain, and the harder the insurance company will resist your demands. If you suffered mild whiplash after having been rear-ended, you may be able to use the methods above and negotiate an amount you’re satisfied with. If you suffered any kind of serious, long-term injuries, the pain and suffering claim may be worth tens of thousands of dollars or more, and you’ll probably need to hire a lawyer to get it. At the end of the day, the only people who can tell you how much you deserve are the people in the jury box at your trial, but most people don’t want to spend the time and money taking the case that far. So, an attorney becomes valuable because he or she will have had the experience necessary to understand what the amount should be, and the means to get the insurance company to pay it.

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