If you were involved in a car accident in California, and if the other party was at fault, the law may entitle you to compensation for your damages. The courts typically classify damages in car crash cases in one of two ways: economic and non-economic.
Economic losses are those the courts can easily calculate with the help of actual bills, receipts, income statements and comparisons of “fair market value.” Examples of economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages and vehicle repairs.
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are damages that have subjective values or values the victims claim they are worth. One of the most common types of non-economic damages is pain and suffering.
What Is Pain and Suffering?
Though used frequently in the context of personal injury law, the term “pain and suffering” does not have a universal definition. However, most courts understand it to mean the physical and mental pain and suffering victims endure following an accident or incident that another person’s or entity’s negligence or carelessness caused. While plenty of examples of pain and suffering exist, some of the more common complaints are as follows:
- Actual pain that an injury causes
- Emotional suffering following an accident, such as anxiety, fear, depression and PTSD
- Physical discomfort that stems from persistent injuries, chronic pain, medical care, etc.
- Emotional distress that stems from being unable to engage in daily activities as normal, such as at work or in the home
- Adverse side effects that physical pain causes, such as anxiety, sleeplessness and aggravation
- Limitations that an injury poses on one’s life, including the inability to pursue hobbies, limitations on social and family life, and loss of enjoyment of life
Some forms of pain are evident. For instance, a physical therapist may be able to determine the extent of a victim’s discomfort by assessing his or her range of motion. A doctor may be able to note a patient’s pain simply by the patient’s reaction to physical stimuli.
Other types of pain and suffering, however, are not so evident. For instance, no one but the victim can understand the extent of emotional pain, such as fear and anxiety, making it difficult to measure.
Evident or not, parties can always dispute the severity of pain. Pain is inherently subjective, and what might send one person to the doctor for pain medications may elicit a shrug from someone else. These factors, among others, make it difficult for the courts to calculate pain and suffering for compensation purposes.
How Do Courts Value Pain and Suffering?
Neither the insurers nor the courts have devised a universal method for calculating pain and suffering damages. However, there are two methods that insurers and personal injury lawyers commonly use to negotiate a fair settlement or award on behalf of claimants.
The Multiplier Method
The multiplier technique is the method deciding parties most commonly used for calculating pain and suffering and the most straightforward. With this method, the insurers or courts calculate the total value of a claimant’s medical expenses. They then multiply the total by a certain number, or the “multiplier.” The multiplier is typically a number between 1.5 and 5, though it can sometimes be as high as six or seven. To determine a fair multiplier, deciding parties typically consider injury-related variables, such as the following:
- The severity of a claimant’s injuries
- The extent of medical treatment necessary, both in the past and future
- Whether the claimant’s injuries have impacted his or her ability to engage in the activities of daily living and/or pursue normal hobbies
- Whether the claimant will live with permanent or long-term side effects after treatment
In some cases, the deciding parties will also consider the defendant’s role in the accident. For instance, if gross negligence led to the accident, the insurers or courts may increase the multiplier.
Generally speaking, the product of the medical expenses and multiplier is the amount the claimant should receive in pain and suffering. For example, if a claimant’s medical expenses totaled $7,000 and the courts used a multiplier of 4, the estimated value of the claimant’s pain and suffering is $28,000.
“Estimated value” is the key term here … Though the multiplier method may say the claimant deserves $28,000 in pain and suffering, the deciding parties have the freedom to increase or decrease this amount at their discretion.
The Per Diem Approach
The per diem approach is an approach in which the victim sets a daily rate and multiplies it by the total number of days he or she lives with pain and suffering after the accident. Parties rarely use this approach, as what one’s time is worth is subjective, making an already subjective process even more so.
However, the per diem approach may work for individuals who can clearly demonstrate their pain and suffering — such as through therapy logs, mental health records and health records — and who can set reasonable rates. A reasonable daily rate is one for which the plaintiff can reasonably argue in favor and support via documentation. For this reason, many personal injury lawyers suggest that plaintiffs begin with daily rates that are equivalent to their daily wages.
That said, a good car accident attorney will not let you sell yourself short, either. For example, say your daily wage is $250. You can easily argue for and support a claim for a daily rate of $250. However, your daily monetary value is much higher if you drop off and pick up your children, cook meals, clean the house, and tend the garden. A skilled lawyer will recognize this and help you formulate an argument that defends a claim for $350 or more.
Insurance Companies Pay More for More Serious Injuries
Regardless of the method you and your attorney decide to use to value your pain and suffering, it is important to note that insurance companies are more likely to pay more for injuries that require more medical care and recovery time. This is largely because more extensive injuries come with more comprehensive medical records, which insurers can use to support higher payouts.
If you hope to recover more from pain and suffering but do not have medical records that support a larger award, look for support elsewhere. For instance, ask your friends and loved ones for character statements. Attend therapy and allow your therapist to share your records. If you missed work because of your injury, or if your performance has dipped, ask your employer for a statement regarding work duties and/or comparing past and current performance. Other forms of evidence you can use to support your case including the following:
- A list from your doctor of all your physical restrictions
- Bills for mental health appointments
- Photographs of your injuries
- Prescription records
- Receipts for over-the-counter medications
- Any journal notes or entries you have documenting your feelings or emotions post-injury
Though, alone, these pieces of evidence may seem insignificant, together, they can be powerful, as they can tell the full story of your journey to recovery.
Why Work With a Car Accident Lawyer
While the extent of your pain and suffering is something that you and only you can comprehend, it may be in your best interests to let an attorney tell your story. A skilled car accident lawyer knows how to present your case in the most compelling manner and to convince the opposing party of just how significantly your injuries have impacted your life. To maximize the amount of compensation you stand to recover for your non-economic losses, retain a skilled personal injury in California. Contact Johnson Attorneys Group to schedule your free initial consultation today.