Car Accident Pain and Suffering: How Much Compensation Can You Get?

Boost your car accident settlement with a strong pain and suffering claim. You deserve compensation for all your losses, not just your medical bills and lost wages.

Your car insurance payout isn’t set in stone. Once the adjuster accepts your economic damages, like medical bills and lost wages, you can boost your final settlement with a strong claim for non-economic damages – better known as pain and suffering.

See what counts as non-economic damages, how to calculate the value of your pain, and how to get evidence to back up your settlement demand.

Types of Car Accident Pain and Suffering

Crash victims, and sometimes family members, are entitled to compensation for several types of pain and suffering. It’s not limited to physical pain from bodily injuries.

There are many types of damages after a car accident that can’t be measured by an invoice or receipt.

Your non-economic damages may include:

  1. Physical Pain and Suffering: Acute pain suffered at impact, continued physical pain from burns, wounds, and swelling, painful stitches, injections, surgeries, dizziness, fatigue, and more
  2. Emotional Distress: Fear, anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sleep changes, and other emotional trauma after an accident; children may act out or regress developmentally
  3. Diminished Quality of Life: Inability to engage in or loss of enjoyment in family activities, school, hobbies, pet care, or religious services; social isolation, chronic pain
  4. Scarring and Disability: Coping with disfigurement, loss of future income earning capacity, loss of function (such as blindness, paralysis, cognitive function)
  5. Loss of Marital and Family Relations: Loss of consortium between husband and wife, loss of companionship and support between parent and child
  6. Impact of Fatal Injuries: Wrongful death claims may include the mental anguish suffered by the decedent’s loved ones

How to Calculate a Pain and Suffering Settlement

The per-diem method and the multiplier method are two basic ways to calculate the monetary value of pain and suffering.

The Per-Diem Method

Per-diem is a Latin phrase meaning “by the day.” With this method, a designated dollar amount (usually the claimant’s daily wage) is multiplied by the number of days they were affected by their injuries.

Using the per-diem method doesn’t take into account the severity of the claimant’s injuries, and may not be helpful for car accident victims who are retired, stay-at-home parents, or low-wage earners.

Example: Calculating a Car Insurance Settlement – Per Diem Method

Sally held a part-time job at a bookstore as she worked her way through nursing school. On her way to work one afternoon, her car was broad-sided by a speeding driver who ran a red light.

Sally was cut out of the car and rushed to a trauma center with several fractures, a ruptured spleen, and a traumatic brain injury. She was unable to return to work or school for six months.

Sally earned $15 per hour, or ($15 x 8) $120 per day. She normally worked two days per week.

Using her daily wage as a per diem, her  compensation calculation would look like this:

Medical Expenses: $50,000

Lost Wages: $5,760 ($120 x 48 days)

Pain and Suffering: $21,600 ($120 per day for 180 days)

Total Settlement Demand: $77,360 ($50,000+ $5,760 + $21,600)

While the total demand seems good at first glance, it’s less than fair compensation for Sally’s types of injuries. This is why the per diem method of calculating pain and suffering is not good for serious car accident claims. 

The Multiplier Method

The three-step multiplier method is the most common method used to estimate compensation for a minor car accident injury.

Step 1: Starting by adding up all your hard costs like medical treatment expenses, lost income, and out-of-pocket expenses.

Step 2: Multiply that amount by a factor of 1-2x to account for your pain and suffering.

Step 3: Add your hard costs to the pain and suffering amount to get the total value of your injury claim.

Serious car accident injuries that result in surgery, disability, or permanent scarring can warrant a multiple of 3-5x or more. You’ll need an experienced car accident lawyer to negotiate a fair settlement for serious injury cases.

Example: Calculating a Car Insurance Settlement – Multiplier Method 

Sally suffered serious car accident injuries. She endured multiple fractures, a severe concussion, and surgery to remove a ruptured spleen.

Her recovery was slow and painful, and she fell a year behind in her nursing school. The physical pain and emotional distress Sally suffered was well documented in her medical records and testimony of her family and friends.

Sally’s personal injury attorney calculated her claim value as follows:

Medical Expenses: $50,000

Lost Wages: $5,760 ($120 x 48 days)

Total Economic Damages: $55,760 ($50,000+ $5,760)

Pain and Suffering: $167,280 ($55,760 x 3)

Total Settlement Demand: $223,040 ($55,760 + $167,280)

Using the multiplier method gives Sally a much higher initial demand for settlement. This amount more accurately represents the severe pain and suffering she endured.

Claimants in no-fault states are not eligible for pain and suffering compensation under their Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. This coverage applies to relatively minor injury claims. More severe injury claims, exceeding a certain threshold, should include a demand for pain and suffering.

Ways to Justify Your Pain and Suffering

The insurance company expects to pay a nominal amount for your “inconvenience” after a car crash. It’s your job to convince them you deserve more. You can boost your payout by submitting proof of how the accident and injuries negatively affect your enjoyment of life.

An adjuster would rather pay more to settle a personal injury claim than risk a jury seeing compelling evidence.

Evidence to support pain and suffering claims:

  • Medical records: Highlight doctor’s notes that mention your pain levels, restrictions on mobility, and general emotional state. If you were distressed because you couldn’t pick up your toddler, point to the doctor’s note that you should not lift more than five pounds.
  • Photographic evidence: Photographs of your injuries after the crash, in the hospital, and throughout your recovery are key evidence of your suffering. The police report might have pictures of the wrecked cars.
  • Witness statements: Witnesses at the scene can describe seeing you writhe and hearing you cry, caregivers can speak to your reduced quality of life, inability to care for yourself, and waking from bad dreams of the crash.
  • Expert testimony: If your case turns into a personal injury lawsuit, your attorney will hire experts to explain your mental state, the severity of your injuries, and how the injuries altered your future.
  • Car accident diary: Write down your recollection of the accident, and regular dated entries describing your physical and emotional experience. Use vivid language to describe your physical and emotional pain at the time of the crash and throughout your recovery.
  • Police accident report: The crash report will verify if you were hit by a drunk driver, any obvious injuries, if you had to be cut out of the car, if you were able to provide a statement, if you were taken from the scene by ambulance, and more.
  • Damaged property: Serious vehicle damage clearly shows the impact you suffered. Bloody and torn clothing, broken eyeglasses, damaged child safety seats, or a broken watch stopped at the time of impact are all examples of personal property damage that illustrate a terrifying experience.

Never give the insurance adjuster your original documents or your damaged personal items. Copies and photographs will suffice for negotiating a pain and suffering settlement.

5 Tips to Maximize Your Accident Settlement

Maximize the payout for your auto accident injuries with these helpful tips. With a little work, you can build a strong insurance claim without hiring an attorney.

  1. Seek prompt medical treatment: You need to get medical care after an accident. Follow the doctor’s orders and keep all follow-up appointments. Disclose all your physical injuries, not just the “big” ones. Mention symptoms, limitations, and concerns with all your doctors. Let them know if you can’t sleep, feel anxious, or can’t play with your kids. You want the medical records to show how the injuries affect your daily activities and mental health.
  2. Collect injury evidence: Gather all your medical bills, receipts for every injury-related expense, and track mileage to medical appointments. Every proven dollar of expenses translates to a higher payout for your pain and suffering damages.
  3. Watch what you say: Try to avoid giving a recorded statement to the insurance company. Adjusters are trained to get you to say things they can use to limit your compensation. Don’t discuss settlement until you’ve fully recovered from your injuries.
  4. Gather proof of liability: You bear the burden of proving the other driver is at fault for the accident. In many states, the adjuster will reduce your compensation in proportion to your share of liability if they believe you are partly to blame for the crash.
  5. Consult an accident attorney: Most personal injury lawyers offer a free consultation to accident victims. Even if you decide to handle your own claim, it’s wise to get professional legal advice about the strength of your car accident case. Serious injuries, wrongful death cases, and multi-vehicle accidents should be handled by an attorney to get the compensation you deserve.
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 >>