How Pain and Suffering Damages Are Calculated in Car Accident Settlements

The purpose of a car accident settlement for pain and suffering is to compensate an accident victim for the mental anguish and physical pain they’ve endured. A settlement cannot relieve the symptoms of a traumatic accident injury, but it can help car accident victims receive the necessary care to properly heal from their mental and physical injuries.

In cases that result in permanent disability or death, a car accident settlement for pain and suffering can help ease the newfound struggles for the accident victim’s family. To receive a fair settlement for pain and suffering, it’s important to calculate the tentative compensation correctly. This is where an experienced personal injury attorney can help.

Learn how a lawyer can help determine pain and suffering amounts and effectively fight your case to achieve a fair settlement.

What Falls Under Pain and Suffering?

The term “pain and suffering” is a legal phrase that refers to both the physical and emotional injuries that car accident victims suffer after a crash. In a personal injury case, pain and suffering is considered a type of general damages. Unlike economic damages, like medical bills or lost wages, general damages do not have an exact monetary amount and are negotiated during a claim.

Though there are various types of pain and suffering, most generally fall under the umbrella of physical pain and suffering and emotional pain and suffering.

1. Physical Pain and Suffering

Physical pain and suffering refer to the impacts of the bodily injuries a car accident victim suffered, like aches, pains, and inflammation. Pain symptoms after a crash can be chronic and last for weeks, months, or even years. In the worst-case scenarios, pain from crash injuries is permanent.

Examples of physical symptoms that may qualify for a car accident settlement for pain and suffering include:

  • Headaches
  • Bone fractures
  • Nerve damage
  • Soft-tissue damage
  • Back and neck pain
  • Vertigo and tinnitus
  • Internal organ damage
  • Paralysis

2. Emotional Pain and Suffering

Emotional pain and suffering refers to the cognitive and psychological impacts of an accident injury or traumatic crash. Mental repercussions of a car accident can begin at the scene of the crash and last for several years. In some cases, emotional distress can prevent a victim from living a full life.

Examples of emotional symptoms that may qualify for a car accident settlement for pain and suffering include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Mental anguish
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

If a car accident victim dies from injuries caused by another driver’s negligence, the victim’s family may also include grief and loss of consortium. Loss of consortium is a legal phrase that refers to the loss of the benefits of a family relationship due to another person’s wrongdoing, like causing a deadly car crash.

Average Settlement Amount for Pain and Suffering in Car Accidents

A table with a laptop, phone, notebook, glasses, and a calculator.

The average car accident settlement for pain and suffering ranges from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $250,000 or $500,000. The amount of compensation paid in a personal injury claim is based on several factors, like the severity of the injuries and the potential timeline for healing. More severe injuries typically incur higher settlement amounts.

For instance, an accident victim who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and sustained permanent disability will likely receive a higher settlement than an accident victim who suffered a mild concussion that resolved in three weeks. Likewise, a victim involved in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer will likely receive more than a victim who was barely side-swiped at an intersection.

There is no specific settlement amount for pain and suffering in car accidents, but previous compensation amounts can help provide an estimate of the settlement you may receive for your accident injuries. Take a look at a few examples for a better idea of what your unique case details may award in pain and suffering compensation.

Examples of Pain and Suffering Settlements

The examples below are not real life cases and are being used for illustrative purposes only. The figures used here are not representative of what your pain and suffering claim may be worth. Each case is different and past results do not predict future performance. The only way that you can discover the value of your claim is to speak with an attorney.

Example 1: Accident victim Mary was involved in a T-bone accident after a negligent driver drove through a red light and struck her vehicle. Her left arm was broken, and she received numerous cuts on her face and chest from broken glass. Mary was required to wear a plaster cast for eight weeks and received multiple stitches, some of which caused permanent scarring.

After weeks of physical therapy, Mary still experienced arm pain after the crash that prevented her from resuming her job full-time. She filed a personal injury case for her medical bills and lost wages, as well as a claim for pain and suffering for her left arm and her stitches. Mary was awarded $50,000 for her pain and suffering.

Example 2: Accident victim Joe was on his way to work when a speeding driver rear-ended him. The force of the impact shattered multiple ribs, which led to extensive stomach pain after the accident. Joe went to the hospital for x-rays, where doctors discovered one of his broken ribs punctured his right lung.

Joe was quickly taken into emergency medical care and received surgery. He remained in the hospital for several days and could not return to work for several months. Joe filed a lawsuit against the at-fault driver for his surgery costs, time away from work, and physical and emotional pain and suffering. His attorney negotiated a $100,000 pain and suffering settlement.

Calculation Methods for Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering is a type of general or non-economic damages, which means it will not have a predefined dollar amount the way a doctor’s bill would. Instead, insurance companies and personal injury attorneys use one of two pain and suffering formulas to arrive at a reasonable settlement for car accident victims:

  1. Per diem (daily rate) method
  2. Multiplier method

Here’s how either method is used in a personal injury case.

The Per Diem Method

The phrase “per diem” is Latin for “daily rate.” When a lawyer uses the per diem calculation for pain and suffering, it means they assign a daily rate for each day that an accident victim suffered from the impacts of a crash. A lawyer will calculate a daily rate for pain and suffering using the victim’s potential daily income had they not been injured.

In other words, the per diem method for pain and suffering is based on the amount a victim loses each day due to physical and emotional pain multiplied by the number of days they suffered until they healed. For instance, imagine a car accident victim who wore a cast on a broken leg for eight weeks and attended physical therapy for seven weeks.

In total, the victim endured physical and emotional pain and suffering for 15 weeks or 105 days. If the victim earned $200 per day, their lawyer would multiply their $200 daily rate by 105 days to decide on a potential settlement amount for pain and suffering. Here’s the per diem method in action:

  • [7 days in one week] x [15 weeks of pain and suffering] = 105 days of pain and suffering
  • [105 days of pain and suffering] x [$200 per day] = $21,000 of pain and suffering damages

The Multiplier Method

Personal injury lawyers utilize the multiplier method for pain and suffering more frequently than the per diem method. This is so a victim’s compensation is not dependent on their paycheck amount. Rather than focus on how much an accident victim earns per day, the multiplier method is based on a victim’s total economic damages, like medical bills and other expenses after a crash.

To arrive at a total pain and suffering amount, a personal injury lawyer will add all of the victim’s economic damages. Then, they will multiply the sum of the damages by a number from 1.5 to 5, depending on the accident severity and type of injuries. A minor injury with minimal recovery may receive a multiplier of 1.5, whereas a traumatic injury with a permanent disability may receive a multiplier of 4.5.

It can be helpful to work with a lawyer as you heal after an accident, so they can help compile all of your economic damages and expenses. A lawyer can then help determine a reasonable multiplier for your case based on your emotional and physical suffering. Here’s how the multiplier method would work for a moderate injury:

  • [$40,000 of medical bills] + [ $15,000 of lost wages] + [$10,000 of expenses] =  $65,000 of total economic damages
  • [$65,000 of total damages] x [3 multiplier] = $195,000 of pain and suffering damages

How is Pain and Suffering Valued by Insurance Companies?

Accident victim talking with insurance agent while the insurance agent writes down what happened on a clipboard.

Pain and suffering is often severely discounted by insurance companies. Emotional distress and physical pain are subjective, meaning they’re heavily influenced by each person’s tolerance level and personal experiences. Since pain and suffering is intangible and cannot be captured in photos like x-rays, insurance companies tend to discredit the severity of victims’ experiences.

When it comes time to receive a car accident settlement for pain and suffering, the help of an attorney is invaluable. An attorney has years of experience dealing with insurance companies and will not allow you to be bullied by an insurance adjuster. Instead, they will enter settlement negotiations on your behalf and present evidence to help you receive fair compensation.

How to Document Pain and Suffering: Types of Evidence the Insurance Company Will Review

It’s easy to provide evidence for physical injuries like cuts or bruises, but you can’t exactly capture anxiety or chronic pain in a photo. So, the documentation process for pain and suffering is different from simply taking photos of an injury as it heals. To properly document pain and suffering, you’ll need to leverage all types of evidence the insurance company will review.

Work alongside a personal injury attorney to gather multiple forms of evidence, including:

  1. Medical Bills: Proof of medical expenses and written formal diagnoses from a medical professional can prove the severity of an accident injury.
  2. Written Diary: A diary or journal that starts on the date of the accident and lasts throughout recovery can help capture symptoms of emotional distress.
  3. Video Diary: Like a written diary, a video diary can serve as evidence of emotional symptoms as well as document the healing process for physical injuries.
  4. Witness Statements: Eyewitness statements from those who saw the crash and witness statements from friends and family can explain shifts in emotional and physical behavior.
  5. Expert Statements: Statements from medical experts, psychologists, and even accident reconstruction experts can help support a pain and suffering claim.

A lawyer will work with you throughout each step of your car accident case to collect as much evidence for the insurance company as possible.

Why You Should Hire an Attorney to Help Prove Pain and Suffering

A car accident victim should not be forced to enter settlement negotiations with an insurance adjuster alone. Without representation, the insurance company can offer far less compensation than deserved for your car accident case. Instead, learn what your pain and suffering might be worth by scheduling a free consultation with a trusted personal injury attorney.

At David Bryant Law, each car accident victim is given the time and attention their case deserves. We work with you from the date of the accident until after a settlement has been reached, providing guidance for every step that comes in between. Contact David Bryant Law today for a free consultation about your car accident settlement for pain and suffering.

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David G. Bryant is certified to practice in all state courts in Kentucky, and federal courts in the Eastern and Western districts of Kentucky, Southern District of New York, Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of Ohio, Middle District of Tennessee, and Western District of Pennsylvania. He is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.