Serious car crashes are terrifying, traumatic events. Along with physical injuries, survivors often experience mental and emotional injuries. Survivors who are innocent victims of another driver’s negligence or carelessness may be entitled to financial compensation from the at-fault party. This compensation should take into account not just the medical bills and property damage, but the more intangible losses suffered by the victim. These non-economic damages may include compensation for your pain and suffering. We explain what this means and how a dollar amount is calculated.
Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages
The first thing to understand is the difference between what is known as economic damages and what are considered non-economic damages. Economic damages are things like damage to your vehicle, bills for medical treatment, lost income due to an injury, loss of future earnings because of a disability, household expenses, and out-of-pocket costs—basically, anything that comes with a clear price tag. These damages are easy to demonstrate by simply producing a bill or invoice. Non-economic damages, however, are harder to prove. They include emotional responses and physical pain that cannot be easily calculated. These damages will not be freely offered by the at-fault party’s insurer and will have to be argued for by the injured party.
What Is Pain and Suffering?
So what kinds of conditions are considered for non-economic damages? Any mental or physical condition that affects your ability to function normally and complete daily tasks may be considered, including the following:
- Loss of enjoyment of activities
- Physical pain
- Loss of companionship
If you require counseling or other treatment for one of these conditions, the cost of treatment may be considered under economic damages, but you are still entitled to be compensated purely for the suffering you have experienced, regardless of treatment.
Proving Pain and Suffering After an Auto Accident
Because these types of conditions cannot be proven with a photograph or x-ray, it is up to the plaintiff to provide evidence of his or her suffering. A skilled accident attorney can create a picture of what the plaintiff’s life was like before the accident, what he or she experienced in the accident, and how his or her life is different after the accident. Family members, home videos, photo albums, and friends can offer valuable testimony in pain and suffering claims. Counselors and therapists can also be called to testify about a person’s mental state. Juries are not always open to awarding pain and suffering damages, so it is vital that a reasonable but strong case be presented.
How Auto Accident Damages Are Calculated
In most cases, pain and suffering damages will be determined by using a formula. Insurance adjusters will take the amount awarded in economic damages and multiply that by a certain factor to come up with a dollar amount of the non-economic damages. A multiplier of anywhere from one-and-a-half to five may be used. The key in the formula is what multiplier is used and the plaintiff’s attorney will argue for the highest possible multiplier. Factors that raise the multiplier include the following:
- Clear and total fault on the part of the other driver
- Obvious and medically supported physical injuries
- Catastrophic or serious injuries that require surgery
- Expectation of a prolonged recovery
- A permanent consequence, such as pain or disability, that is medically documented
You do not have to meet all of these factors to be awarded non-economic damages, but the more serious your injuries are, the higher the multiplier should be.