How to Calculate Pain and Suffering Compensation After an Injury

Learn what you need to support your calculations for pain and suffering and how to increase your total injury compensation.

It’s easy to figure out the amount of money you need to cover your medical bills and property damage after an accident – just add up all your bills and receipts.

But most of us pay a higher cost for injuries than just what we can add up from receipts. How do you put a price on your pain and suffering?

It’s a lot harder to calculate a dollar amount that will fairly compensate you for pain and anguish, and even harder to justify your demand to the insurance adjuster.

Here’s where we unpack what to factor into your pain and suffering calculation, methods of calculation, and how the insurance company looks at different types of injuries.

What Counts as Pain and Suffering?

In personal injury claims, pain and suffering represent the emotional distress or “mental anguish” a person endures after being injured by the negligent acts of the at-fault party.

Pain and suffering is a term used for non-economic “general” damages that can’t be calculated by adding up bills and receipts.

Pain and suffering may be caused by:

  • Physical pain and discomfort, whether temporary or permanent
  • Depression, anxiety, memory loss, insomnia, or other emotional disorders
  • Physical limitations, including the inability to play with your children or hug them
  • Loss of consortium (supportive relationship) with your family members
  • Any other emotional or psychological trauma

Case Summary: Millions Awarded for Consortium, Pain and Suffering Claims    

Forty-year-old Carrie DeJongh died after an allergic reaction to dye injected into her body for a CT scan. Her family filed a malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Roy Slice, who administered the CT Scan to Carrie.

During the trial, the jury was convinced that Carrie would not have died but for the physician’s malpractice.

The jury awarded $1.5 million to Carrie’s estate for her pre-death pain and suffering.

The jury also awarded $5.5 million to each of Carrie’s four children for loss of parental consortium, and $6 million to her husband for loss of spousal consortium.

You won’t be eligible for pain and suffering compensation in some circumstances, such as:

Pain and Suffering Calculation Methods

Two basic methods for calculating pain and suffering compensation are the Per Diem method and the Multiple methods.

Per Diem Method

Per Diem is a Latin term for “by the day.” The per diem method of calculating pain and suffering assigns a dollar value for one day (often the amount of the person’s daily wages) then multiplies it by the number of days the injured person was affected by the injury.

The per diem method is rarely used for insurance settlements.

Example: Per Diem Calculation

John suffered a concussion and broken arm when he slipped and fell at his local grocery store. The store’s insurance company accepted full liability for the accident.

John had to endure headaches and a “fuzzy headed” feeling for nearly three weeks. Until his concussion symptoms cleared, he couldn’t tolerate reading, watching television, or even being outside in sunny weather.

He was in a cast and sling for six weeks, which prevented him from working at his carpenter job and kept him from his regular gym workouts, yard work, and many household chores.

When John recovered from his injuries, his demand for compensation included $5,040 for pain and suffering, calculated as $120 per day for the 42 days (six weeks) he dealt with head and arm pain and loss of enjoyment of his life.

John used his average daily wage as the per diem value for his calculations.

Multiple Method

The Multiple Method is the more commonly used way to calculate pain and suffering for insurance settlements. This calculation is made by totaling the injured person’s economic damages and applying a multiple from one to five.

Economic damages are your hard costs for medical bills, lost wages, and related out-of-pocket expenses. Insurance adjusters called these special damages, or “specials.”  You will have bills and receipts to support the dollar amounts figured into your economic damages.

The tricky part of using the multiple method to calculate your pain and suffering is figuring out which number to use as a multiple.

Convincing the Adjuster to Pay

You can’t just demand a large amount of money for your pain and suffering and expect the insurance adjuster to roll over. You’ll need to provide a reasonable and credible basis to justify the amount, and back it up with evidence.

Unless the accident left you critically or permanently injured, your demand for pain and suffering will probably be between one and three times the amount of your special damages. Your final settlement amount depends on the circumstances of your injury and your ability to justify your pain and suffering.

When negotiating settlements, most adjusters expect to add a small amount on top of the special damages to cover pain and suffering. You can take the offer and call it a day or use persuasive arguments to try to raise the pain and suffering amount in your settlement.

Excuses Used by Adjusters to Cut Pain and Suffering

Most insurance adjusters will readily accept provable damages like medical bills, but will challenge the amount you seek for pain and suffering.

Adjusters will always refuse high pain and suffering demands when an injury claim involves:

  • Soft tissue injuries: Sprains, strains, and whiplash injuries are difficult to verify on an X-ray or CT scan, so adjusters are always skeptical of your pain and suffering claim.
  • Low-impact collisions: Adjusters will argue that you could not have suffered much of an injury in a minor fender-bender.
  • Prior injuries: The adjuster will use prior injuries to argue that your pain and suffering was not all caused by the current accident.
  • Low or no medical bills: Without physical injuries, you won’t get far with claims for pain and suffering. The adjuster won’t put a monetary value on emotional distress for your slip and fall when the only thing hurt was your pride.
  • Shared liability: Your overall settlement, including pain and suffering, can be reduced if the adjuster believes you share some of the blame for your injuries

Factors that Increase Compensation

Injuries that resulted in a long and difficult recovery or that have a significant impact on the victim will always be worth a higher pain and suffering value. For example:

  • Accidents with fatalities
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Extensive burns
  • Amputations
  • Disfigurement, especially to the face
  • Spinal cord injuries

Severe personal injury claims should always be handled by an experienced personal injury attorney. It’s the only way to get an appropriate amount of compensation for you and your family.   

Case Summary: Jury Awards $15 Million for Pain and Suffering

Jerri Woodring-Thueson was an athletic 49-year-old when she was transferred to Harborview Medical Center Stroke Center for preventative care after a minor stroke.

Rather than get the state-of-the-art care she expected from Harborview, Jerri’s care was handed off to interns and residents. Her condition worsened until she was rushed into surgery.

Jerri made it through surgery but was left paralyzed on one side of her entire body. Her permanent injuries were devastating to Jerri and her husband.

At trial, Jerri’s attorney alleged that the negligence of Harborview and the doctors in charge of her care were the direct cause of her disabling paralysis.

The jury agreed awarded $10.3 million to Jerri for past and future economic losses, $10 million for her non-economic damages, and $5 million for her husband’s pain and suffering, for a total of $25.3 million.

Proving Your Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering is a different experience for each individual, so think about how your injuries affected your lifestyle and emotional well-being.

Also, think about how long the injury will interfere with your life:

  • Current pain and suffering is what you endure from the time of the injury through the completion of medical treatment and therapy. It ends at some point. Its duration can be measured.
  • Current and future pain and suffering is what you endure from the time of the injury, through the course of medical treatment, and into the indefinite future. Its duration is unknown and open-ended.

If you’re completely healed and don’t expect any problems in the future, you can reasonably ask for one or two times the amount of your specials for pain and suffering. When you are facing ongoing effects of your injuries, you are justified in pursuing a larger amount for pain and suffering.

No matter how much you demand, you’ll have to convince the adjuster of the negative effect the pain and suffering have had on your quality of life.

How Evidence Can Help Your Claim

Before you begin calculating your pain and suffering demand, think about how you’ll convince the adjuster to raise the multiple. You’ll list those reasons in your demand letter and later rely on them in settlement negotiations.

Your arguments must be logical and based on as much credible evidence as you can provide.

Medical Records: Point to your medical records to back up your claims for pain and suffering and emotional distress. Tell your medical providers how the injury is affecting your activities of daily living.

In addition to your written narrative, include a copy of the relevant medical records. For example:

  • The doctor has restricted you from lifting more than 10 pounds, so you can’t care for your 20-pound baby.
  • You have trouble sleeping, and when you do, you have nightmares. Your doctor orders sleeping pills.
  • You’ve been instructed not to drive for two weeks. You are forced to rely on others to drive your children to school.
  • You are seeing a counselor to treat the depression caused by the long and painful recovery from your injuries.

Photographs of your injuries throughout treatment can say a lot about your pain and suffering. Pictures of you in a mangled car, hospital bed or gurney can be very compelling.

Witness statements: Just like you can ask someone who saw how you got hurt to provide a witness statement, you can also ask your family, neighbors, and helpers to write down what you have been going through since the injury. They can write about helping you with:

  • Meals
  • Yard work
  • Childcare
  • Pet care
  • Transportation

Your helpers can describe what you couldn’t do for yourself after the injury, but only you can describe how it made you feel.

Take Notes: Keep a diary or journal with detailed notes about the impact of the injury on your life and happiness. Use descriptive language to explain:

  • Your daily pain levels
  • Humiliation from needing help with personal hygiene or toileting
  • Frustration from not being able to work, cook, or other tasks
  • Fear of continued disability
  • Heartache over missing important holidays or special occasions
  • Sadness or depression

To succeed in raising your settlement amount, you must be able to put your pain and suffering into words that are clear, reasonable, and persuasive to the adjuster.

Take time to think about what you lost and how you suffered as a result of the injury. You only have one opportunity to settle your claim, so don’t hold back.

The better prepared you are to convince the adjuster of the depth of your pain and suffering, the higher your final compensation will be.

You don’t have to settle for less. If you were severely injured or not comfortable dealing with the insurance company, talk to a personal injury attorney about the value of your claim.

Most reputable injury lawyers don’t charge for the initial consultation, so it costs nothing to find out what a good attorney can do for you.

Video: Calculate Pain and Suffering

Pain and Suffering Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>