How to Calculate Pain and Suffering Compensation in a Car Accident Claim

woman crying

We often hear the term “pain and suffering” in the context of personal injury settlements, but it’s important to understand exactly what it means. The first step is to understand the difference between “special damages” and “general damages” (“damages” meaning monetary compensation).

Special damages are awarded for losses that are concrete and quantifiable, such as medical bills, property damage, and lost wages. They are relatively easy to calculate. For example, if you missed 50 hours of work and your wage is $20 an hour, you have a claim for $1,000 of lost wages.

General damages, on the other hand, are subjective and much more difficult to calculate. This is where “pain and suffering” comes in. It can include a multitude of factors, such as:

  • Physical pain
  • Anxiety and other mental health issues
  • Permanent disability
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

These damages are very difficult to quantify, and the “method” of calculation varies widely from case to case. While you may have heard of the “multiplier method” or the “per diem method” of calculating pain and suffering damages, it’s a good idea to keep your expectations reasonable because each case can be evaluated differently.

The Multiplier Method

Let’s go over how the “multiplier method” works, keeping in mind that it should be used only as a placeholder or guide. This method takes your medical bills and multiples them by a number, usually between 1 and 5. The more severe and life-changing the injury, the higher the multiplier will be. Loss of limb or organ function, for example, might be multiplied by 5, while more surface-level or soft tissue injuries might be multiplied by 1 or 2. For instance, if you have a spinal cord injury that has caused you permanent disability and your bills total $100,000, the insurance adjuster might multiply that number by 5 for a pain and suffering figure of $500,000.

The Per Diem Method

Another method rarely used except for permanent injuries, is the “per diem method.” This method assigns a number per day of pain and suffering damages. For example, if your left leg was injured, an adjuster or jury might decide that your pain and suffering are worth $200 per day from the date of the accident to the date you are determined to have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). Therefore, if it took you six months from the date of the accident to reach MMI, your pain and suffering award would be approximately $36,000.

Factors Considered When Calculating Pain and Suffering

In many cases, however, neither of these methods is used, so it’s important to understand the most significant factors considered by adjusters and juries in calculating pain and suffering damages. The number one factor is the severity of your injuries. A catastrophic injury such as an amputation will lead to much higher pain and suffering award than a sprained wrist.

Adjusters and juries also look for a strong balance between diagnostic treatments (such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs) and therapeutic treatments (such as physical therapy and surgery). Say you have $10,000 in bills for diagnostic treatments but didn’t go back to the doctor for therapeutic treatments. Your pain and suffering award will be less than for someone who had only $5,000 in bills for diagnostic treatments but also $5,000 in therapeutic treatments.

How to Pursue Compensation for Pain and Suffering

You may be wondering how you can present a strong case for pain and suffering damages. One of the most helpful things you can do is to keep a daily diary of your symptoms (both physical and mental), medications including side effects, and any other ways your injury affects your quality of life.

The other important step is to consult with an experienced car accident lawyer, who can comb through your medical records and personal journal and put together a strong case for maximizing your pain and suffering award. Call the skilled car accident attorneys at Kreger Brodish LLP today for a free consultation.