An injury that results in physical, emotional, and economic hardship can be difficult and confusing to deal with. Luckily, an experienced local attorney can explain all remedies available to you. That’s especially true when it comes to emotional hardship. Both insurance companies and attorneys can assign values to physical and economic costs to calculate an amount fairly quickly. For example, you might add your doctor’s, hospital and pharmacy bills to arrive at a final sum for out-of-pocket expenses. That’s an easy number to determine when filing a claim for reimbursement of those costs. The same isn’t true for what most people call “pain and suffering.”
So, how do you assign a reasonable monetary value to something like physical pain or emotional suffering? We’ll show you exactly how lawyers and insurers calculate pain and suffering as a dollar amount when negotiating your settlement.
What Is Pain and Suffering?
The phrase “pain and suffering” typically describes any damages you could win for your injury not based on third-party receipts.
“Pain and suffering” applies to anything about your injury that costs you money besides medical bills and lost wages.
Here are some examples of non-economic costs they may use to calculate pain and suffering awards:
- The anxiety you feel walking to your child’s soccer game after you slipped and fell on a broken public sidewalk
- How often you have panic attacks when you get behind the wheel after a commercial truck accident put you in the hospital
- Whether your infant’s life-altering birth injury was a contributing factor in you and your spouse’s divorce
Whatever your particular circumstance, “pain and suffering” is a way to assign a monetary value to emotional and mental distress from your injury.
How Does a Court Calculate Pain and Suffering Damages to Award Plaintiffs?
There is more than one way to assign a monetary value to emotional and mental distress. The “multiplier method” is one of the most common ways to calculate pain and suffering. This is when a court adds up all tangible fees related to an accident or injury (i.e., medical and legal fees, lost wages, property damage, etc.). Then, they multiply that sum by a certain number. The result is the total payment award you may receive for pain and suffering.
Typically, that multiplier number falls somewhere between 2 and 4. So if your receipts for out-of-pocket expenses totaled $5,000, for example, the court might calculate pain and suffering at anywhere between $10,000-$20,000 for your final award.
Eleven U.S. states, however, cap the amount plaintiffs can win for pain and suffering damages:
It’s important to remember, too, that it is the insurance adjuster who will calculate pain and suffering damages. Insurers train these professionals to look at a variety of factors when deciding whether your settlement offer should include pain and suffering damages. Here are just some of the things insurance adjusters look at when they calculate pain and suffering damages:
- The severity of your accident or injury
- Whether your injury is physical, mental, or both
- Any prior claims paid out from the liable party’s insurance policy
- Your personal health history (i.e., Did you have a pre-existing health condition, mental illness, or similar, prior injury before filing your claim?)
Do All Injured Claimants Win Pain and Suffering Damages?
The answer to this question is no, not everyone wins pain and suffering damages after an accident or injury.
The most obvious reason you might not receive any money for pain and suffering is if you are at fault for your injury. Here’s an example: You slip and fall on your ice-covered driveway walking to your car and break your leg. In this case, your insurer would still likely pay for medical treatment and perhaps your lost wages. However, the insurance claims adjuster will not calculate pain and suffering damages as part of your award. Why? Because you, the homeowner, are responsible for maintaining a safe driveway and failed to do so before stepping out onto the ice.
If your insurer finds you only partially at fault, your state’s laws determine whether you can receive money for pain and suffering. Because each state is different, it can be tricky to tease out what your insurance will cover versus anyone else’s policy (if one exists).
Should I Work With an Attorney to Secure a Settlement?
Talking to an attorney can help you better understand the nuances of your case and what, if any, costs you may owe if you choose to pursue your claim. However, in nearly every case, a lawyer will get you significantly more money than you would through insurance alone. Car accident attorneys, for example, typically get up to 3.5x more money for claimants than those who settle directly with car insurers.
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.