Is Pain and Suffering Awarded After a "Minor" Car Accident?

Even after a seemingly minor crash, your claim will likely include a "pain and suffering" component. Here's how it works.

Even when your car accident injury case stems from a crash that might be characterized as "minor," the effects of the accident are often anything but. Here's what to know at the outset:

  • Mental and physical "pain and suffering"—resulting from car accident injuries and necessary medical treatment—is a part of most claimants' experience.
  • Proving the nature and extent of "pain and suffering" can be difficult when the car accident itself was seemingly minor.
  • It's critical to provide a detailed, personal story of the impact that the accident, your injuries, and your medical treatment have had on you.

What Is Pain and Suffering In a Car Accident Case?

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.

How to Calculate Car Accident "Pain and Suffering"

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 adjusters 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. Learn more about how pain and suffering is determined in a car accident case.

Putting Your Pain and Suffering Case Together

Whether you're filing a car insurance claim or a car accident lawsuit, it's not usually a good strategy to just pull a "pain and suffering" figure out of thin air and leave it at that. While your medical bills, lost income, and other financial losses are easy to quantify with records, your pain and suffering claim is largely a story that you, as the claimant, need to tell:

  • What did you experience during the accident, and in the following days, physically and mentally?
  • How have your injuries impacted your life?
  • What's different now, post-accident, in terms of what you're unable to do?

All of these effects and more should be described in detail, so that the insurance adjuster or the court gets a complete, personal picture of your pain and suffering in the wake of the accident.

You might even want to keep a car accident journal, in which you document the effects of your injuries on your life, and describe any other adverse effects of the accident. You can include this kind of journal along with any demand letter you send to the insurance company or to the other driver's lawyer, or use it to help make your court case if you file a car accident lawsuit.

Is it Worth It to Pursue a Claim After a Minor Car Accident?

Before pursuing a car accident claim, it's 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's 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.

No Pain and Suffering In a No-Fault Insurance Claim

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 collect 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.

A Car Accident Lawyer Can Be a Big Asset

Wrestling with an insurance company, or its lawyer, over a car accident 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 doesn't.

You'll likely 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.

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