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Pain and Suffering

We often hear the words “pain and suffering” associated with personal injury claims. While pain and suffering is certainly experienced by anyone injured in a car accident, it is important to understand what pain and suffering means in terms of damages. When you are injured in an accident and file a claim for compensation with the insurance company, you are hoping to be awarded damages for your injuries and treatment. “Damages” refers to an amount of money you are awarded because you suffered harm due to the negligence of another. There are two types of damages associated with personal injury claims: special and general damages.

Special and General Damages

Special damages include compensation for damaged property (such as your vehicle), lost wages if your injuries prevented you from working, and past and future medical expenses related to treatment for your injuries. These types of damages usually have a concrete number attached to them, making them easier to calculate. For example, you know that if you missed 70 hours of work and your wages are $10 an hour you have a claim for $700 in lost wages.

On the other hand, general damages are much more difficult to calculate or quantify as they rarely have concrete or objective numbers attached to them. Included in this category is pain and suffering as well as mental distress, a physical disability resulting from the accident, and claims for a lowered quality of life. It is incredibly difficult to determine a dollar amount for pain in suffering as it relates to your injuries. For instance, how much is a broken arm worth in pain and suffering? What about a sore lower back?

General damages, especially pain and suffering, tend to complicate a personal injury claim. For more information on the types of general damages you may be able to claim in North Carolina.

What is Pain and Suffering?

Pain and suffering specifically refers to the physical and mental pain a person experiences as a result of injuries sustained in an accident for which they are not at fault. Emotional and mental pain may include fear, insomnia, grief, depression, anxiety, or inconvenience that occur as a direct result of the accident. Physical injuries may be easier to document, as it will be apparent to an adjuster that a broken femur (for which you will have medical bills and records) caused you pain and suffering and greatly affected your daily life.

However, emotional and mental injuries may be harder to prove, so you should gather as much evidence as possible to support these claims if you want them to be considered in your pain and suffering claim. For example, if you are experiencing anxiety about driving a car as a result of your accident, mention this to your doctors when you go in for appointments so that they will note the issue in your medical records. The adjuster will have access to your medical records and will be able to see that you expressed your anxiety to doctors on several different occasions/visits.

Further, you may choose to seek treatment specifically related to this anxiety for your own mental health. A therapist or other mental health professional may be useful in reducing your anxiety and will also document your experiences as evidence to support your claim.

Lastly, keeping a daily diary can also help support your claim for pain and suffering. Be sure to include daily treatment updates, struggles caused by your injuries to regular routines, and any pain and anxiety you may be suffering as it relates to this accident.

Calculating Pain and Suffering

As we have mentioned, pain and suffering can be a difficult number to pin down as it means something different to every person. Generally, pain and suffering is a subjective number attached to a settlement by an insurance adjuster based on his or her opinion of the severity of the injuries sustained and the types of treatment rendered. There are tons of different factors that are considered in determining a quantifiable amount for pain and suffering. Provided below is a general list of some of the most important factors considered:

  • Severity of the injury – The severity of your injury is probably one of the most important factors considered. Typically, the more severe the injury, the more that will be awarded for pain and suffering. Therefore, someone with broken bones will likely receive more than someone who only suffers from minor aches and pains.
  • Types of treatment received – Typically, there are two types of medical treatments individuals may undergo: diagnostic treatment and/or therapeutic treatment. Diagnostic treatment includes X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc. Therapeutic treatment generally consists of chiropractic treatment or physical therapy. It is important to note that there should be a strong balance between the two types of treatments, as too much of one or the other could have a negative effect on your pain and suffering award.
  • Effects on daily routines and life – The effects your injuries have on your daily routines can have a significant impact on the amount of pain and suffering you may receive through your personal injury settlement. For instance, someone walking with a permanent limp will likely have a greater impact on the pain and suffering portion of a bodily injury award than someone who will fully recover from their injuries.
  • Mental effects/Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Oftentimes, people fail to realize the mental toll an accident can have on an individual. Fortunately, the stress associated with an accident will likely play a key factor in determining your pain and suffering. Accidents are often traumatic and can even result in post-traumatic stress disorder. Whenever you are suffering mentally, it is imperative that you seek the reasonable and necessary medical attention.

“Methods” for Determining Pain and Suffering

Different insurance companies have their own methods for quantifying pain and suffering. A common approach is to multiply the medical bills by a number, generally between one and five, depending on the severity of the injuries. This is considered the “multiplier method” and is likely one of the most misconstrued and misunderstood concepts in personal injury claims. Therefore, provided below is a detailed analysis of the so-called multiplier method.

The “Multiplier Method”

The multiplier method is commonly misconstrued as an exact science. Clients often mention that they should receive three times their medical bills or have set their expectations based upon some sort of multiplier. Unfortunately, every single claim is different, and all kinds of factors go into determining a pain and suffering amount. With this being said, the “multiplier method” is by no means exact and should only be used as a kind of placeholder or guide.

For example, let’s assume that Injured Party A has $10,000 in medical bills, all from diagnostics received at a hospital. Party A never returned to the doctor or sought more medical treatment. Party B, however, has $8,000 in medical bills made up of a relatively even balance of diagnostic treatment and physical therapy. Between the two parties, Party A, although he/she has higher medical bills, would likely not receive as large of a pain and suffering award as Party B. Furthermore, the multiplier method would not really apply, per the unbalanced treatment plan. Therefore, in this example, the multiplier method would not be applicable for Party A; however, it could be used as a target point for Party B.

The “Per Diem Method”

Another way to attempt to quantify pain and suffering is the per diem approach, in which the insurance company will owe the victim a certain amount each day until they have reached maximum medical recovery. Using this approach, the insurance company will attempt to quantify a daily rate in which they owe you for pain and suffering. The timeline of this rate will typically be calculated from the date of your accident to the date you are released from medical care/treatment. Again, this is very subjective, and all the factors above will be considered in determining a daily rate. This method is not commonly used, and when it is used, the insurance company will not likely announce that it is in effect.

Again, it is extremely important to reiterate that pain and suffering is a subjective number. Further, this amount is in addition to and separate from the compensation you should receive for your medical bills, lost wages, and out-of-pocket expenses. The moral of the story is that there is no real test to determine pain and suffering; therefore, having reasonable expectations is important when handling your personal injury claim.

Proving Pain and Suffering

The hardest question remains: how can an accident victim or their lawyer “prove” pain and suffering occurred as a result of the accident? The medical records associated with the accident will be the most important evidence that can be provided to the insurance adjuster. If your medical records show that you were injured as a result of the accident, that you reported pain to the doctor, and that you received treatment to remedy your pain and injuries, then you should have a case for pain and suffering.

You or your lawyer may also choose to write a persuasive letter outlining the extent of your suffering as a result of the accident, noting all physical, emotional, and mental tolls that the accident had on your body.

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