What Multiplier Should You Use When Valuing Your Personal Injury Case?

A multiplier is often used to put a dollar value on pain and suffering in a personal injury case, but what number is appropriate?

In most personal injury cases, if an insurance adjuster is using a damages formula (like the one in our calculator) to value a claim, it's usually based on a multiplier of between 1.5 and 5 times the total amount of the claimant's medical costs related to the accident. The number derived from this formula is typically considered an appropriate estimate of the claimant's "pain and suffering." Adding this pain and suffering figure to the total medical costs is how the adjuster might arrive at a base negotiating figure—not including lost income.

It's pretty common for an adjuster to use a multiplier of 1.5, 2, or even 3 when valuing a personal injury case. However, in some types of claims, certain factors line up so overwhelmingly for the injured person that the top multiplier of five is simply not high enough. In those claims, the multiplier might move up to six, seven, or even as high as ten times special damages. Read on to learn more.

Think You Should Use a High Multiplier? Not So Fast

It's only natural for a personal injury claimant to believe that his or her own pain and discomfort is significant, and therefore worthy of significant compensation. But don’t quickly jump to the conclusion that your claim is one of those entitled to the highest compensation. In fact, only a few claims justify a multiplier of more than five. So, what kinds of things should you look for (and try to emphasize in negotiations with the adjuster) when trying to put a dollar value on your pain and suffering?

Factors That Might Justify a High Multiplier

In order to realistically consider a multiplier of more than five, you must have had a serious injury, and most, if not all, of the following factors must be present:

  • the other party’s fault for the accident must be obvious
  • your injuries must be unquestionably observed or detected by medical examination
  • your injuries must be obviously painful and dramatic—a fracture, or a wound, tear, or displacement that requires surgical treatment, or that cannot be successfully repaired
  • diagnosis and treatment must come primarily from physicians and hospitals (learn why the type of medical treatment you receive matters)
  • recovery must be prolonged (six months or more)
  • you must suffer some permanent consequence—pain, immobility, weakness, discomfort, scarring—that is medically documented, and
  • your physicians must clearly indicate that you will have recurring, degenerative, or future problems as a result of the injuries, even if they have stabilized for the time being.

If all or almost all of these factors are present in your claim, you may be justified in seeking more than five times your medical bills. At least in your formal demand for compensation and your early negotiations with the insurance company, you can begin with an amount that leaves room for a settlement of more than five times your medical bills.

But the fact that you feel justified in initially seeking such an amount doesn’t mean that you will receive it. You may find that the insurance adjuster makes a lower-than expected offer, pointing out weak spots in your claim. Or you may ultimately find that you have simply inflated in your own mind the seriousness of your injuries, and therefore inflated your expectations. Be aware that if you allow yourself to get carried away with the unjustified hope of a very high settlement when the facts of your case don’t support it, you will only prolong what is already a lengthy settlement process, leaving yourself open to frustration and disappointment. So, make sure your claim really fits the profile outlined above before you begin thinking of a multiplier of more than four or five times your medical costs.

Example of a High-Multiplier Settlement

Let's take a look at what a high-multiplier settlement might look like. Driving her car, Bea was slammed into from behind by a truck. The force of the impact drove her face into the steering wheel, breaking her jaw and driving a tooth through her lip. Her jaw was wired shut for six weeks and she had pain and difficulty eating for over a year. She now has a small scar on her lip and has lost a bit of feeling there. Her medical bills were $15,000. She was retired, so she lost no income.

The accident was entirely the fault of the truck driver. Bea’s injuries were dramatic, painful, and long-term, requiring over a year’s recovery and leaving her with both a scar and some loss of sensation in her lip, which seems to be permanent. Because of all these factors, use of a multiplier of four or five is probably appropriate, meaning Bea is likely to receive a settlement of between $60,000 ($15,000 multiplied by 4) and $75,000 ($15,000 multiplied by 5).

This article is excerpted from How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Attorney Joseph Matthews (Nolo).

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