When most people think of the expenses caused by a car accident or medical malpractice case, they think of the medical bills or vehicle damages that victims are left dealing with.
There are plenty of measurable expenses that come about as a result of personal injury cases, there are also other costs that are harder to measure.
Physical pain and mental suffering are very real side effects that victims may experience.
Maybe you’ve sought a settlement for a personal injury case in the past. Or you are simply a fan of crime dramas on TV. Either way, odds are that you’ve heard the term “pain and suffering.” But what does it really mean? And in real life, does it take a lawyer to seek damages like pain and suffering as a part of a settlement? Keep reading to find out.
What are Pain and Suffering?
Pain and suffering is a loose term. In short, it refers to physical or mental symptoms that a victim of a personal injury case suffers. The Dictionary.Law.com definition defines pain and suffering as:
"The physical and mental distress suffered from an injury, including actual broken bones and internal ruptures, but also the aches, pain, temporary and permanent limitations on activity, potential shortening of life, depression and embarrassment from scarring, all of which are part of the "general damages" recoverable by someone injured by another's negligence or intentional attack. The dollar value of damages for pain and suffering is subjective, as distinguished from medical bills, future medical costs and lost wages which can be calculated, called "special damages."
Because it covers a wide variety of types of injuries, pain and suffering may look different from one case to the next. Some examples of symptoms, injuries, and other side effects that can fall under the category of pain and suffering include:
- Mood swings
- The fear associated with an accident
- Ongoing physical pain, including headaches, nerve damage, joint pain, etc.
- Diminished quality of life
For one individual, pain and suffering might be the pain of breaking an arm and having to spend several weeks recuperating. For another, it could be dealing with a lifetime of pain as a result of a debilitating injury.
Can Pain and Suffering Be Factored Into a Car Accident Settlement?
Depending on the circumstances of the case, the individual, and the extent of his or her injuries, pain, and suffering can vary in severity. When it comes to factoring pain and suffering into a settlement, it also varies widely in value.
In terms of a case of medical malpractice, pain and suffering may be claimed as compensation for the actual physical pain that a patient has suffered. It may also be claimed for the mental pain of an increased recovery time, or for any permanent disabilities that may be caused as a result of the malpractice.
Car accident victims may also claim pain and suffering.
Alongside physical pain, PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder can also be caused by car accidents, especially those that occur at high speeds or are particularly serious. In fact, car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD among the general population in the U.S. Around 39 percent of survivors of motor vehicle accidents develop PTSD.
PTSD can manifest as ongoing mental and physical side effects. It can make it difficult to work or perform other regular responsibilities. Sometimes it can lead to other mental illnesses, like depression or anxiety, which can make everyday life more challenging. It’s also a difficult condition to treat and is something that victims may deal with for years to come.
Even if you were not the one injured in a car accident, you can still claim pain and suffering. Losing a loved one in a car accident can lead to both pain and suffering and loss of companionship, both of which can be included in a settlement. Having to care for a loved one who was permanently disabled as a result of a car accident can also lead to pain and suffering that should be factored into a settlement.
Types of Damages in a Car Accident Case
Pain and suffering is just one example of the many different types of damages that victims can claim when seeking a settlement for a car accident or other personal injury case.
Most of the damages that can be claimed as a part of a settlement are divided into two categories; special damages and general damages.
IN THIS SECTION:
What are Special Damages?
What are General Damages?
What are Special Damages?
The most common types of damages that can be claimed as a part of a settlement following a car accident fall under the category of ‘special damage.’ These are monetary losses that occur as a direct result of a crash.
Some examples of special damages include:
- Medical bills
- Cost of repair to a vehicle
- Lost wages
- Other property damages
- Transportation costs, like an ambulance ride
Each of these damages must occur as a direct result of the car accident. For instance, it may be necessary to provide a written letter from your doctor stating that you had to miss work as a result of injuries incurred in the crash in order to claim lost wages as a part of your settlement.
What are General Damages?
In contrast, general damages are more difficult to assign a monetary value to. This is the category that pain and suffering fall under.
While they may be harder to calculate, they are just as important as special damages when it comes to calculating a car accident settlement. If you are the innocent victim of a car accident and suffered injuries and other interruptions to your life, you deserve to be compensated.
Pain and suffering are not the only damages that fall under this category. Other examples of general damages include:
- Mental anguish
- Physical disfigurement
- Permanent disabilities
- Lowered quality of life
If you lose a loved one as a result of a car accident, you can also claim loss of companionship. This is a monetary value assigned as a result of losing a spouse or caretaker and their income, emotional support, and physical support.
Do You Need a Lawyer for Pain and Suffering?
Whether you were injured in an accident or not, there's no law stating that you have to hire an attorney in order to seek a settlement. However, some cases are easier to handle without legal assistance than others.
In most cases, if an accident was serious enough to cause significant pain and suffering, hiring an attorney is a good idea.
Besides helping you to claim pain and suffering in the settlement that you’re seeking, your lawyer will also compile evidence proving what you suffered. This evidence will be presented to the insurance company paying for damages. If the insurance company refuses to pay and the case goes to court, your attorney will use the proof they’ve gathered to convince the courts that you deserve compensation for your pain and suffering.
Calculating Pain and Suffering
One of the hardest parts of seeking damages for pain and suffering on your own, without an attorney, is calculating what your suffering is worth.
Calculating medical bills or property damages are easy. All you have to do is add up the bills received from hospitals or for ambulance rides, or from the garage that took care of your vehicle.
But calculating what your suffering is worth in a monetary value is much more challenging. How can you place a value on the pain of dealing with PTSD? Or assign a dollar amount to the never-ending physical pain of nerve or joint damage?
This is where a personal injury lawyer can help.
How Personal Injury Lawyers Calculate Pain and Suffering
Personal injury lawyers have a number of methods that they use to calculate how much a client’s pain and suffering is worth. Of course, even these methods aren’t an exact science. After all, it’s tough to say that a person’s pain can be made “right” with a cash value.
However, when it comes to seeking financial compensation, these methods are a widely accepted way to place a value on general damages like pain and suffering.
Perhaps the most common method for calculating pain and suffering is by multiplying the value of the other special damages that a victim is seeking. Typically, only the special damages related to a person’s health and injuries are included. Damages related to property damage are excluded from this calculation.
The value that your attorney will multiply this total by varies from 1.5 to 5. Which value is used depends on the circumstances of the accident and the extent of your injuries.
For instance, if you’re likely to be suffering from pain or mental anguish for many years or the rest of your life, they’ll likely multiply the total of your special damages by a higher number than if you suffered a more minor injury, like a broken arm.
Sample of a Pain and Suffering Calculation
To better understand how personal injury attorneys calculate pain and suffering, let’s take a look at an example.
Say that a person is the victim of a car accident. In the car accident, they suffered a number of injuries that put them in the hospital for several weeks. To get to the hospital, they required an ambulance ride. They also had to attend physical rehabilitation during their recovery. While in the hospital and rehab, the victim had to miss work, and as a result, lost weeks worth of wages. Their vehicle, which had a BlueBook value of $10,000 was totaled.
All of these expenses will be included in the settlement sought by the victim. But not all of the expenses will go into factoring pain and suffering.
Instead, the victim’s attorney will likely include only the following expenses:
- Any medical bills
- The cost of ongoing rehabilitation
- Medications that the victim needs
After totaling these expenses, the attorney will then choose a value with which to multiply them. If the victim is suffering serious PTSD, they may multiple that value by 3, 4, or 5. If the victim is already recovering and is likely to go on living pain-free, the value may be lower.
The final total will then be included in the settlement that the attorney is seeking for the victim.
Seeking Compensation for Pain and Suffering
Every year in the U.S., more than 4.4. million people are injured seriously enough to require medical attention as a result of an auto accident. It’s estimated that 10 percent of deaths in the country are a result of medical mistakes or errors. Product defaults, slip, and fall accidents, and wrongful death cases cause thousands more injuries and deaths each year.
Any type of accident behind a personal injury case can cause pain and suffering. But getting compensation for your pain and suffering can be a challenge. It's often much harder than getting a settlement for your medical bills or damage to your vehicle.
While you can seek compensation for pain and suffering on your own, it’ll be up to you to calculate your pain and suffering. Then, you’ll need to prove to the insurance company that you deserve compensation for what you’ve been through. If the insurance company refuses your claim, you may need to take your case before the court. You’ll also need to prove beyond a doubt that the pain you’ve suffered is a direct result of the accident.
If you’ve been seriously injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, you seek a settlement for pain and suffering. But it’s best to consult an attorney first. He or she can help you better understand whether you are likely to get the damages that you’re seeking. If they feel that you have a strong case, they’ll help you compile evidence and fight for justice.
No amount of money can reverse the physical or mental pain that you have suffered. But it can go a long way towards offsetting the financial burden you have suffered.
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