Understanding Pain and Suffering in a Car Accident Settlement

Car accident injuries not only lead to immense medical bills, they can pose substantial limitations on your life. Suppose, for example, that you suffer a traumatic brain injury in an accident. Not only will that traumatic brain injury result in immense medical bills and time off work, it may result in substantial suffering in many areas of your life. You may miss out on time with friends and loved ones, find yourself dealing with substantial anxiety, or even notice decreased overall enjoyment of life because of your injuries.

Compensation for pain and suffering aims to help compensate you for some of those losses. While compensation for pain and suffering does not help change those circumstances, it can provide you with much-needed funds that can help you rebuild your life despite the limitations you face.

Understanding Car Accident Damages

Most car accident settlements contain two key types of damages: special damages and general damages.

Special Damages

Special damages include the specific financial losses you suffered because of your car accident. For example, you can go through your medical bills and clearly see how much you have spent on medical care related to your accident. Special damages may also include wages lost because of your injuries, which you can usually calculate and assign a specific value to.

General Damages

General damages include non-economic damages: suffering or losses you faced because of your accident, but which you cannot assign a specific economic value to. General damages usually incorporate the “pain and suffering” category of your car accident claim.

What Counts as Pain and Suffering?

Pain and suffering includes all of the elements of suffering that you face because of your accident. Talk to your lawyer to develop a better understanding of how pain and suffering affect your car accident claim. Pain and suffering may incorporate elements like:

Physical Pain Related to Injuries

Some injuries will leave the victim suffering from intense physical pain throughout the recovery process. Back and neck injuries, for example, can make it very difficult for the victim to engage in many of the activities that make up normal daily life. Since both sitting and standing can cause pain, the victim may have a hard time getting comfortable.

Burn victims may also suffer immense physical pain related to their injuries. In fact, burn victims often suffer more physical pain than victims with any other type of injury.

Emotional Trauma Related to the Injury or the Accident

Often, accident victims suffer immense emotional trauma along with the physical trauma from the accident. Some accident victims suffer from substantial PTSD. In some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder can cause such severe trauma that the victim struggles to get in a car or to drive past the place where the accident occurred. In other cases, PTSD may lead to in-depth trauma responses in other areas of the victim’s life. Overcoming PTSD may require a long road to recovery.

Emotional trauma, however, does not have to mean PTSD. Some victims suffer emotional trauma related to the accident in other ways. Burn victims, for example, often struggle with the emotional impact of permanent scarring related to their injuries, while victims who suffer from spinal cord injuries may struggle with the loss of independence. Many accident victims who suffer severe injuries struggle with depression or anxiety as they work to recover from their injuries. In some cases, these emotional challenges can even impact their overall recovery.

Loss of Enjoyment

Some people who suffer severe injuries in a car accident may find themselves struggling with an overall loss of enjoyment of life. Their injuries may prevent them from engaging in the activities they usually enjoy, whether temporarily or permanently. For example, a victim with multiple broken bones in their leg may have a long road to recovery ahead before they can get back to running, playing sports, or engaging in other highly physical activities.

In some cases, the injuries related to the car accident may permanently prevent the victim from doing things they enjoy. That loss of enjoyment can lead to deep depression or, in some cases, a permanent loss of enjoyment in life. Many victims struggle to overcome those challenges in the aftermath of severe accidents.

Loss of Consortium/Companionship

In some cases, the injuries from a car accident can prevent the victim from functioning as a normal member of their family. A victim who suffers from serious traumatic brain injury, for example, may no longer have the ability to aid their spouse and children in the normal tasks that make up family life. They may end up needing long-term care at home, which may result in the loss of spousal relations or long-term limitations in activities they can participate in with members of their family. Children may no longer go to that parent for advice.

Serious injuries from a car accident can also result in substantial changes to a victim’s personal life after the accident. Often, people who have suffered severe injuries find that their friends fall away and no longer want to spend time with them. Sometimes, they can no longer participate in shared activities. Other times, they may experience changes in their lives that make it very difficult for them to engage normally with friends and family members. Some accident victims, including victims with traumatic brain injury, may suffer personality changes because of the accident, which can permanently change the way they interact with friends and loved ones.

How Do Insurance Companies Calculate Pain and Suffering?

Unlike special damages, which have clear financial values, general damages included in pain and suffering often do not come with a specific price tag. How can you put a value on the suffering you have faced?

Talk to your car accident attorney about how to determine the value of pain and suffering in your claim. Most often, insurance companies and attorneys will use one of two methods to calculate pain and suffering in a car accident claim.

The Multiplier Method

Often, insurance companies will assign compensation for pain and suffering based on a percentage of the compensation you receive for medical expenses associated with your injury. Usually, your medical bills will serve as the foundation of the claim. If you suffered severe injuries, and therefore have high medical bills, this method assumes that you will also suffer immensely.

In general, the insurance company will arrive at compensation for pain and suffering by multiplying the compensation you received for your medical expenses by a value between 1 and 5. How much compensation you receive may depend on several factors, including the severity of your suffering and how it affected your overall life.

Don’t let them reduce your feelings to a mathematical formula. Let your attorney determine how much compensation to ask for.

The Per Diem Method

If the insurance company and/or your attorney do not assign compensation for pain and suffering based on a percentage of the medical expenses you faced due to your injuries, they may use the per diem method. The per diem method assigns a specific dollar amount, usually less than $100 per day, and assigns that compensation each day until you reach the point of maximum medical improvement as you recover from your injuries.

Which One Offers Greater Value?

Contact your attorney to learn more about which method of calculating pain and suffering will likely lead to the greatest amount of compensation for your injuries. Which one offers the greater value to you may depend on the severity of your injuries, how much time you will need to spend in recovery, and what medical bills you faced due to your injuries.

Proving Pain and Suffering: Offering Evidence of the Compensation You Deserve

Negotiating the compensation you deserve for pain and suffering can create one of the greatest challenges you may face as you navigate your car accident claim. Working with an attorney can prove critical in helping you calculate the compensation you really deserve for pain and suffering after a car accident. An attorney can also offer you vital information about how to prove the suffering you faced because of your injuries. Your attorney may recommend presenting specific evidence to help establish your claim.


Photos of your injuries can help establish the extent of your suffering. You may start taking photos at the scene of the accident, or you may choose to wait until you get bandaged up in the emergency room. The photos can show details of your injuries: the swelling around a broken bone, the cast or other protective gear you have to wear, or the durable medical equipment you must use to aid you in your daily tasks.

You may even have photos of you in a hospital bed or at a rehabilitation center, missing your home, family, and the activities you would usually engage in. Photographs can provide a snapshot of the suffering you faced because of your injuries. You cannot bring observers along to walk a mile in your shoes, but you can provide them with a look at the limitations your injuries have caused in your life.

Journal Entries

Did you keep a journal throughout your recovery? If so, it may help give the insurance company or the jury a look inside your head. What suffering did you face? How did you deal with it? You may also choose to provide testimony of your own about what losses and limitations you have faced because of your injuries. What have you missed most? What changes have your injuries caused? How have you handled those changes, emotionally speaking? Your journal entries or testimony can help give a personal perspective of the limitations related to your accident and how they have changed your life.

Psychologists’ and Doctors’ Statements

Many car accident victims need psychological therapy as well as physical and/or occupational therapy related to their accidents. Your psychologist or psychiatrist may have records of your sessions, which will include information about how your accident and your injuries have impacted your life.

If you received a diagnosis, including PTSD, anxiety, or depression, especially if you needed medication to help cope, your psychologist or psychiatrist can provide evidence of that diagnosis and how it has impacted your life and your recovery. If you claim compensation for a psychological diagnosis, including increased anxiety or insomnia, you will need to provide evidence from your therapist.

Your doctors, while not necessarily qualified to make a psychological diagnosis, can provide a clear report of your physical capability and what limitations you have faced because of the injuries from your accident. Your doctor can help give evidence concerning how your injuries have changed your life. In some cases, your doctor may also testify about your attitude and emotional state throughout your recovery.

Statements From Friends and Family

Your friends and family members knew you before the accident, and many of them may have walked through those difficult days beside you. While they cannot make a psychological diagnosis, they can provide statements and testimony about how your accident has impacted many of the areas of your life. Have you struggled to overcome the limitations associated with your injuries? Did you face increased depression or anxiety after your accident? How has your accident impacted your life plans and relationships? In the case of injuries like traumatic brain injury, your friends and family members may also testify about personality changes related to the accident.

Contact an Experienced Car Accident Attorney With Your Questions

Working with an attorney to manage your car accident claim can be critical. An attorney can help you calculate the financial value of pain and suffering after your accident and include it in your car accident claim. Do you have questions about how to incorporate pain and suffering after your accident? Do you need help putting together your car accident claim? Contact an experienced car accident attorney to learn more about your rights after a severe accident.