How do you put a value on physical pain and emotional anguish? A single accident could result in marital discord, lost career opportunities, and even an inability to hold your children. Many people injured in a car crash feel that the indirect damages from an accident—including frustration, pain, and mental anguish—often overshadow out-of-pocket costs.
Insurance providers generally offer injured claimants compensation for direct losses, such as medical bills, reduced income, and property damage, but they frequently minimize the significance of your actual suffering. Nearly every state permits persons injured in car accidents to demand financial compensation for the physical pain and mental anguish caused by their injuries. Some jurisdictions refer to these non-economic losses as pain and suffering damages.
General Damages Available in Car Accident Cases
The term damages refers to the financial compensation potentially available to injured plaintiffs in civil cases. Claimants could not bring car accident litigation unless they suffered actual damages from the crash. Car accident cases generally involve compensatory damages that exist to compensate (reimburse) plaintiffs for financial losses resulting from a car crash.
These damages include calculable economic losses, such as emergency room bills, and incalculable non-economic harm, such as the inability to dress without help. Requesting money for your pain and suffering refers to claiming non-economic compensatory damages.
Defining Pain and Suffering Damages
Every state defines pain and suffering damages differently. Some list the specific categories of compensable non-economic injuries, while others group these damages into one or two classes.
While the specific items depend on the jurisdiction, persons injured by negligent drivers can generally demand compensation for the following non-economic damages:
- Actual physical pain
- Loss of spousal companionship
- Suffering and mental anguish
- Inconvenience, such as the inability to drive or sit comfortably
- Inability to perform activities of daily living, including cooking, cleaning, bathing, and dressing
- Lost enjoyment of life and past recreational activities
- Missed career opportunities
- Difficulties associated with switching jobs and educational delays
If a statute does not address specific losses, such as the frustration associated with no longer providing for your family, you may typically include these in general emotional suffering claims.
Recovering Direct Damages for Health Conditions Caused by Mental Anguish
Secondary medical conditions, such as extreme fatigue, depression, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, may develop after a car accident. For example, lost enjoyment of life might cause depression, suicidal thoughts, and personality changes. Likewise, neck and back pain often result in difficulty sleeping leading to chronic fatigue syndrome or addiction to sleep-aids.
A local car accident attorney might help plaintiffs injured in motor vehicle collisions gather evidence linking the crash to secondary conditions, resulting in compensation for non-economic pain and suffering damages. Proof of these post-accident conditions might also help determine the value of claims for mental anguish, pain, and lost enjoyment.
Gathering Evidence to Support Pain and Suffering Settlements and Awards
During litigation stemming from car accidents, the victim must prove they experienced actual pain and suffering, as well as present the overall value of those damages. Courts expect that plaintiffs will submit both traditional and non-traditional types of evidence in such cases.
A claimant should begin by drafting a sworn statement describing the nature of their daily pain, lost enjoyments, and mental anguish. Friends and families may also submit supporting statements that discuss how the claimant’s personality has changed and the daily struggles with which they witness the claimant grappling.
In support of these affidavits, consider obtaining and providing the following evidence:
- Receipts and prescriptions for pain medications and antidepressants
- Certified medical records discussing your pain, mental distress, and physical limitations
- Disability letters
- Before and after evidence of activities previously enjoyed, such as biking, swimming, dancing, playing with grandkids, or walking the dog
- Notes and treatment records from a mental health professional
- Pictures of current medical equipment, bodily injuries, disfigurement, and necessary lifestyle changes
Claimants who recover significant pain and suffering damages often do so because they kept detailed records of their daily and weekly struggles. Consider maintaining a journal chronicling your frustrations and anguish following a car accident. Courts may look at every entry and award a certain amount of support for each day you’ve shown substantial suffering. Spouses and loved ones might keep similar records to supplement your account.
Different Levels of Pain and Suffering Awards After a Car Crash
One driver and four passengers injured in the same collision might each recover different pain and suffering awards, depending on the extent of individual injuries and necessary lifestyle changes. For example, an avid athlete disabled by a car crash might recover more lost enjoyment of life damages than someone with a more sedentary lifestyle. Likewise, a passenger who suffered a miscarriage might recover a higher non-economic award because this type of loss traditionally results in incalculable emotional pain.
Injuries and Illnesses Often Resulting in Higher Mental Anguish and Suffering Verdicts
Even without submitting detailed evidence, most jurisdictions agree that the following conditions automatically entitle claimants to considerable pain and suffering awards:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Lost fetus
- Extensive burns
- Facial disfigurement
- Irreversible damage to bodily systems or organs
- Serious spinal and nerve damage
- Traumatically-induced fibromyalgia
Plaintiffs might use verifiable medical reports linking these conditions to their car accident so they can justifiably request higher-value pain and suffering damages. For plaintiffs suffering from more common car accident injuries, including whiplash, herniated discs, shoulder strains, and knee damage, insurers may request more specific evidence of loss. A mountain biker suffering from a traumatic knee injury might recover additional non-economic damages by submitting photos, videos, and statements about the impact of this injury on their hobby.
Whether you can no longer paint due to a severe shoulder strain or suffered permanent disfigurement from burns sustained in a traumatic car fire, a car accident lawyer can evaluate your pain and suffering claims.
Calculating Non-Economic Damages with Mathematical Multipliers
While not always accurate, most insurers use a multiplier to calculate pain and suffering damages. Adjusters look at the overall amount of your direct costs, including past and future medical bills and lost wages, and multiply these damages by a seriousness factor. The worse the injuries with more evidence of suffering, the more substantial the number adjusters will use.
Take the following three examples:
- Example 1 – A negligent driver rear-ended your vehicle. You suffered a neck injury and underwent five months of physical therapy. You incurred $10,000 in medical bills and lost wages during this period. The insurer may multiply these direct damages by a small number, such as 1.5, and offer you a $25,000 settlement ($10,000 x 1.5 = $15,000 + $10,000 = $25,000).
- Example 2 – You were t-boned and sustained a broken shoulder, herniated discs, and a serious knee injury. You incurred $150,000 in direct losses, underwent two surgeries, and attended 12 months of rehab. You could not walk, drive, work, or otherwise engage in your favorite outdoor activities during this time. While you’ve mostly recovered, you will continue to have serious neck pain. The insurer may multiply your direct damages by a higher figure, such as 3, and estimate your pain and suffering damages at $450,000. This would put your total damages at $600,000 ($150,000 x 3 = $450,000 + $150,000 = $600,000).
- Example 3 – Being trapped under a tractor-trailer carriage left you paralyzed and with serious burns on your arms and back. Experts estimate these permanent injuries will cost you $2,000,000 over your work life. Insurers may apply the highest available multiplier, such as 5, making your total damages to be $12,000,000 ($2,000,000 x 5 = $10,000,000 + $2,000,000 = $12,000,000).
Estimates indicate that over 90 percent of car accident lawsuits settle before trial, and this statistic excludes the numerous car crash cases resolved before claimants filed lawsuits. Therefore, understanding how insurance companies calculate your pain and suffering damages can help you estimate your case’s value and decide whether to accept an insurance settlement or file a lawsuit.
Remember to consider both your current and future anticipated direct losses when using this method of estimating your pain and suffering damages.
Using the Daily Method of Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages
Sometimes using mathematical multipliers does not fairly represent the seriousness of your loss. For example, a miscarriage may only result in a $1,500 hospital bill and $1,000 in lost wages. This would leave a mother struggling to cope with the loss of her child with a maximum of $15,000 ($2,500 x 5 = $10,000 + $2,500 = $12,500) for her pain and suffering.
You should consider requesting that insurers utilize a daily pain and suffering approach in such cases. For example, a mother may testify of suffering from post-traumatic stress, depression, and grief for two years after an accident. A judge could award her $250 per day for her suffering over these two years. This would result in pain and suffering damages amounting to $182,500 (365 days x 2 = 730 days x $250 per day = $182,500).
The more pain and suffering caused by the car crash, the higher the daily number used to calculate these damages. Keeping a journal of your emotional suffering and daily struggles during this period typically helps prove these losses.
If all of this math seems impersonal to you, your car accident lawyer may not think that a simple calculation like the above can adequately sum up the damages you’ve sustained. If so, your car accident attorney may push for a different way to determine the money the at-fault party owes you.
Understanding the Realities of Requesting Substantial Non-Economic Damages After a Car Crash
If you obtained debilitating injuries in a car accident that destroyed your lifestyle, you do not have to accept an insurance settlement. Instead, you might bring car accident litigation and ask a jury to hear evidence of your pain and award you appropriate damages. Plaintiffs often wish to express their grief in court, but they must also understand the realities of recovering damages for their losses.
Car insurers need only pay up to their policy limits—typically $50,000 to $300,000. The large settlements and jury verdicts reported on television usually only happen if the crash involved large commercial vehicles, multi-car collisions, rideshare companies with $1,000,000 injury policies, or high-asset defendants. Even if you recover a considerable jury verdict from a negligent defendant, this may result in the defendant declaring bankruptcy. You might only recover a small portion of your award and have the rest discharged after years of litigation and court costs.
Thinking about how much money to realistically request after a car accident often depends on the negligent driver’s insurance policy limit and personal assets. Even if you deserve $1,000,000 in damages, an attorney may recommend settling for the $100,000 policy limit knowing that a young defendant could never pay the full award.
It could take a lifetime to recover your total damages in small monthly installments, and you take the risk associated with default and bankruptcy. Sometimes working with counsel to recover the highest realistic insurance award and moving forward after an accident represents the best possible outcome after a crash.
The Benefits of Consulting an Experienced Local Car Accident Attorney
A local car accident lawyer can help you understand how to get the most out of your car accident case with the least amount of hassle. Attorneys may request the liable insurer’s declaration page, look at a client’s underinsured policy limits, and consider each potentially liable defendant’s financial circumstances. They might estimate the maximum amount of damages reasonably available to their injured client and help them recover the most money for their pain and suffering.
You should consider speaking with a car accident attorney about the best recovery options after a serious car, truck, or motorcycle accident. Getting the most pain and suffering damages may mean working with insurers or explaining the emotional impact of a drunk driving crash to jurors.
The majority of car accident attorneys only take a percentage of your overall award as their fee, and it typically costs nothing to speak with local car accident counsel. Experienced car accident lawyers might look at your case’s facts and give you a fair and reasonable estimate of how much you might get in pain and suffering damages.