In nearly every car accident case where an injured driver or passenger makes an insurance claim or files a lawsuit, the claimant or plaintiff seeks to recover out-of-pocket expenses and “pain and suffering.” Out-of-pocket expenses, like medical bills and prescriptions, are typically fairly easy to document and prove. “Pain and suffering,” however, is less tangible and more difficult to prove. It can be an ever more problematic category of damages if the car accident was seemingly a minor one. In this article, we'll discuss pain and suffering in the context of this kind of accident.
Pain and suffering refers to the physical and/or emotional stress associated with an accident and the injuries caused by it. For example, if a driver was severely burned in a car accident, the driver would probably recover money for the agony of enduring the burn itself, the associated treatment, the discomfort it caused, and any limitations imposed on the claimant's lifestyle. The driver would also likely recover money for the stress and limitations associated with being permanently scarred or disfigured.
Most states in the U.S. follow a standard fault-based liability system after a car accident, where the person who caused the accident is deemed negligent and is held financially responsible for all reasonable damages resulting from the crash.
However, there are around twelve states that follow a “no fault” insurance system. In these states, you cannot make a personal injury claim -- and you can't collecting compensation for pain and suffering -- unless your medical bills cross a certain dollar amount threshold which varies from state to state. Other states require that the claim meet a "serious injury" threshold, which also is defined differently from state to state.
For the rest of the states, standard rules apply. In other words, as long as you can prove someone’s negligence caused you harm, you can recover compensation from that person (usually through his or her car insurance policy), including pain and suffering damages.
Because there is no hard and fast rule for calculating “pain and suffering,” it can be easy to over-inflate.
In calculating pain and suffering, insurance companies look at the severity and permanency of your bodily injuries. In other words, you will be entitled to more money for pain and suffering if you broke three ribs than if you bruised your leg. Which makes sense. The more severe and permanent your injury is, the more pain and suffering you will experience.
Insurance companies typically multiply the amount of medical bills by a number between one and five to calculate “pain and suffering.” The more severe and permanent the injury, the higher the multiplier. You, or your attorney, will need to use your best judgment in estimating your pain and suffering. Be prepared to explain and justify your calculation in any demand letter you send to the insurance company, or to the other driver's lawyer.
Before pursuing a car accident claim, it is worth considering the seriousness of the injury caused by the accident, in light of the time and effort it will take to make a claim. Dealing with a car insurance company can be a hassle, especially if it's the other driver's carrier and things start to get adversarial.
If you are unable to resolve your claim with the insurance company, you will probably need to file a lawsuit. Litigation can be expensive, time-consuming, and stressful. In addition, you will likely have to give a deposition. Depositions can be grueling.
Before making a claim, or filing a lawsuit, it is worth considering whether the injury is worth it. If the injury is a bruised knee, or a slightly sprained ankle, it may not be worth the hassle. Of course, if you've got significant medical bills and your life has been adversely affected by the accident, there is no question that making a claim is the right move.
Wrestling with an insurance company, or its lawyer, over a claim can be frustrating and time-consuming. Lawyers who handle car accident cases handle these matters all the time. They know what works and what does not. You will probably have to pay a set percentage of your recovery to the attorney who assists you (almost all car accident attorneys work on a contingency basis), but many people find it is worth the money to avoid the hassle and maximize their recovery. Learn more about How an Attorney Can Help With Your Car Accident Claim.