Car accident victims who suffer injuries face mental anguish and financial burden on top of their physical pain. The law permits them to seek compensation for their injuries, including damages for economic and non-economic losses related to the accident and their injuries.
Economic damages include losses that are easy to quantify, such as medical treatment costs and lost wages. Non-economic damages include diminished quality of life, loss of consortium, and other ways car accident injuries have impacted someone’s life. Pain and suffering is the most common type of non-economic damage car accident victims recover in a personal injury lawsuit.
Calculating pain and suffering and other non-economic losses is far more challenging than calculating economic losses. It’s easy to add up medical bills, lost income from work, property damage, and other expenses incurred in a car accident. Lawyers rely on a wide range of tools and evidence to place a monetary value on someone’s pain and suffering after sustaining car accident injuries.
Below we take a closer look at what constitutes pain and suffering, factors that impact how much pain and suffering is worth in a car accident, and the types of evidence lawyers review to reach a fair value for a claim.
What Constitutes Pain and Suffering?
If you have sustained car accident injuries, especially because of another driver’s negligence, you intuitively understand pain and suffering. However, the abstract notion of pain and suffering has a more specific definition in the legal community, especially in the context of car accident claims. At the most basic level, pain and suffering refer to the physical pain and mental anguish someone faces due to injuries caused by another party’s negligence.
Depending on the exact circumstances of your car accident, pain and suffering might include a wide range of physical and emotional characteristics of injuries.
Here are some examples:
- Specific physical harm from the accident, including fractures, brain injuries, back injuries, and crushed limbs
- Chronic physical pain stemming from car accident injuries
- Temporary and permanent restrictions on activity
- Diminished quality of life
- Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health struggles
- Embarrassment, humiliation, and other negative emotions from visible scars from burns, amputations, and other injuries that cause disfigurement
Ultimately, pain and suffering speak to the ways car accident injuries have impacted all aspects of a victim’s life.
Some examples of how the characteristics above translate into everyday struggles include:
- Being unable to get through the day without taking pain medication
- Being unable to hold your child because of injuries
- Watching people react to scars and other injuries
- Missing out on your favorite activities and hobbies
- Difficulty standing and sitting without agonizing pain
- Fear and anxiety about driving
- Loss of intimacy and struggles with personal relationships
Your lawyer will review your case and discuss your injuries to you to get a better idea of how much your pain and suffering is worth in your car accident claim.
Factors That Affect How Much Pain and Suffering Is Worth
Many factors impact the amount of compensation someone might receive for pain and suffering in their car accident claim. Examples of factors lawyers evaluate to determine an amount for pain and suffering pain and suffering include:
Severity of Injuries
As a general rule of thumb, the more severe injuries someone suffers in a car accident, the more compensation they might receive for pain and suffering if they reach a settlement or a jury rules in their favor. For example, someone who breaks their leg and sprains their wrist in a car accident definitely feels physical pain, but they often make a speedy recovery within a few months. They might have to wear a brace or a cast and use crutches but usually can return to normal activity in six to ten weeks.
However, someone who sustains a spinal cord injury or a traumatic brain injury in a car accident and suffers permanent brain damage or damage to the nervous system can expect more compensation for pain and suffering. More severe injuries also require hospitalization for days or weeks, increasing the value of pain and suffering for car accident victims.
Nature of Injuries
The nature of a car accident victim’s injury also factors into how much pain and suffering is worth in their claim. Some injuries leave victims with massive amounts of trauma, resulting in anger, frustration, and humiliation. Car accident victims who suffer disfigurement or have permanent scars from their injuries typically have the justification for seeking more compensation for pain and suffering.
The location of an injury on someone’s body is another aspect of the nature of an injury that can affect the value of pain and suffering in a car accident claim. For example, someone who has a permanent scar on their face will often recover more damage than someone with a less visible scar on the back or hip.
The severity and nature of car accident injuries strongly correlate with someone’s chances for a full recovery. Complex and severe injuries need an excessive amount of time for healing and rehabilitation.
Unfortunately, full recovery is not always achievable, even after months of physical therapy and other treatments. Severe injuries and multiple injuries from a car accident sometimes make it difficult for doctors to know how long someone needs to heal and if they can make a full recovery.
This is especially true for spinal cord injuries, back injuries, and traumatic brain injuries. Car accident victims who are unlikely to fully recover usually receive more money for pain and suffering. Your car accident lawyer will speak with your physician about your long-term prognosis to come up with a reasonable amount of compensation for pain and suffering.
Total Economic Loss
Total economic loss makes up a large portion of all personal injury claims, including those involving car accidents. Economic losses usually include expenses for ambulance transport, emergency room services, hospitalization, surgery, prescriptions, doctor visits, lost income, and other expenses related to car accident injuries.
Lawyers and insurance companies calculate economic loss by adding up receipts and bills. Those who have large amounts of economic loss often receive more money for pain and suffering. Severe injuries can create economic hardship for car accident victims and their families. Sometimes households face bankruptcy, foreclosure, repossession, and more. Financial challenges add mental anguish to car accident victims, increasing pain and suffering.
Insurance Policy Limits
Most car accident injury lawsuits arise from an insurance claim. Even those who suffer injuries because of an uninsured driver have likely filed a claim under their own auto insurance policy. The coverage limit might factor into the amount your attorney calculates for pain and suffering, especially if the insurance policy limit is low.
Lawyers figure out economic loss first because it’s easy to add up expenses and easier to prove. If the monetary value of pain and suffering puts the total value of a car accident claim over the policy limit, a lawyer might reduce the amount of non-economic losses, including pain and suffering.
Protecting the Value of Your Claim
Regardless of the value of pain and suffering in your car accident claim, you need to beware of the tricky tactics insurance companies use to reduce the value of your claim. The main issue with pain and suffering is that it is highly subjective and open to interpretation. A large, muscular man or woman with high pain tolerance who broke an arm might seem to have less pain and suffering than a child who breaks an arm. Yet, both deserve compensation for pain and suffering if someone else caused a car accident that led to their injuries.
Insurance companies use the subjective nature of pain and suffering to fight to pay the least amount possible. Here are examples of strategies some insurance carriers use to reduce the value of car accident claims.
Social Media Sleuthing
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media networks give people the chance to present their lives in the best possible way. Posts, especially those with photos, show happy people that are always smiling, having fun with their families, and engaging in various physical activities. Even someone who has recently suffered severe car accident pictures can post items on social media that reflect positivity and a lack of pain.
Insurance adjusters investigate social media and look for anything they can use to devalue a claim. The most seemingly harmless post can give them ammunition to argue your injuries aren’t as bad as you claim or that you are healing better than expected. It’s best to avoid all social media posts until your car accident injury claim is resolved.
It’s not uncommon for insurance companies to send out investigators to track down injured car accident victims, especially if they have a high-value claim. These investigators are searching for a moment where a victim doesn’t appear to be in pain or suffering in any way. Even though you might be putting on a show in public so as not to have others know how you are feeling or you feel great because you are hopped up on pain medication, it could come back and bite you.
The insurance company will use these types of pictures to argue that your injuries are not that severe. Always be aware of your surroundings and be careful what you say or do in public, so you do not give an investigator a picture or video they can use against you.
Early Settlement Offers
Depending on how recently you suffered injuries in a car accident, you might have already heard from the other side’s insurance carrier. If you haven’t, you probably will soon. When insurance carriers know their policyholders are at fault, they know they are going to have to pay a claim. In these cases, they do what they can to pay the least amount possible.
Making an early settlement offer, often far lower than the true value of a claim is a common tactic. They offer enough money to tempt car accident victims to “Take the money and run without getting lawyers involved.” If a car accident victim accepts the offer, this ensures the insurance company will not have to pay more later because accepting an offer requires waiving the right to future compensation. It’s in your best interest to let a lawyer handle communications and review all offers to ensure you get every penny you deserve for your car accident injuries.
Experienced car accident lawyers know the tactics insurance companies use and can often anticipate them. Additionally, a lawyer can often negotiate a much higher amount for your car accident claim and give you the best chances of getting the most money possible for your pain and suffering.
Follow Doctors’ Orders to Get the Most Money for Pain and Suffering
After suffering car accident injuries, it’s imperative that you keep all follow-up appointments and strictly follow your treatment plan. You need to take every measure possible to fully recover from your injuries and go on with your life. Those who demonstrate they have followed doctors’ orders and are still struggling typically get the most for pain and suffering.
Those who do not follow their treatment plan give the other side the chance to argue that the only reason a car accident’s injuries are bad is that they are not listening to recommendations from their doctor, physical therapist, occupational therapist, or other specialist involved in their treatment.
Get the Legal Help You Need After a Car Accident
You do not have to deal with your pain and suffering by yourself after a car accident. An experienced car accident lawyer can guide you through the legal process and advocate for you each step of the way. They can focus on the details of your claim while you focus on healing from your injuries to the extent your body will let you.
It costs you nothing to consult with a lawyer, tell them about your car accident, and about how your injuries have affected your life. The sooner you contact an experienced car accident attorney, the sooner they can begin working on your case.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.