Written by: Portrait Photo Of Chad M. Prentice Chad M. Prentice

When you are involved in an accident that caused you to suffer physically or mentally, you can seek compensation by filing a claim. The most common damages include medical bills, lost wages, and property damage.  However, most people do not know that they may be entitled to compensation for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering, emotional anguish, depression, and anxiety. 

While noneconomic compensation can be challenging to calculate, there are methods to determine compensation for pain and suffering. On this page, you will find information on calculating pain and suffering damages and what classifies as pain and suffering damages in a personal injury case. You will also find information about the benefits of hiring a personal injury claim attorney

What is ‘Pain and Suffering’ in Personal Injury Cases? 

In a legal context, pain and suffering refer to physical discomfort or mental distress. You may be entitled to compensation if you have been involved in an accident that resulted in pain and suffering. 

Keep in mind that most states in the U.S. have statutes of limitations for just two years, as when the matter involves a government claim, and there can also be a maximum limit on the amount of compensation. For instance, in many states, the pain and suffering compensation can be no more than three times the amount of the actual economic damage costs. Many personal injury claims are settled between the two parties, so a judge may not be needed. The at-fault driver or their insurance company can agree to pay the injured person without needing to get the courts involved. 

Common types of Pain and Suffering Injuries 

Here are two types of injuries that can classify as pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits.    

Compensation sign

Physical Pain 

A car accident can result in several types of injuries. The victim may require immediate medical attention due to physical pain caused by broken bones or soft tissue injuries. There can be other severe injuries, such as disfigurement, paralysis, or permanent disability. 

In some car accidents, the injured person sustains physical impairment or a more severe injury that triggers mental anguish. Such damages can reduce the quality of life for the injured person and can be considered pain and suffering.

Emotional Distress 

If a person is involved in a car accident, they may develop anxiety, emotional anguish, or depression. As a result, they might not be comfortable driving even after physically recovering from the accident. This is typically a result of the mental trauma and suffering caused by the accident.  

An accident victim might also suffer from the emotional pain of losing a loved one through wrongful death. In a legal context, wrongful death is caused by another person’s negligence or wrongdoing, such as reckless driving or driving under the influence that causes a fatal car accident. 

How Is Pain and Suffering Determined?

In a personal injury claim, the pain and suffering compensation awarded to the plaintiff by the judge and jury is based on supporting evidence, including medical records and witness testimony. The pain and suffering settlement is added to the compensation settlement after the court hears the testimony of the victim’s healthcare provider and other expert witnesses. There are several important factors considered in pain and suffering cases, including the following: 

The Type of Injury 

The nature of the injuries sustained by the plaintiff determines the value of compensation they deserve for general or noneconomic damages. For instance, a soft tissue injury may not be as severe and can heal faster than broken bones or amputation. The insurance companies can review evidence to determine whether the injuries suffered by the victim qualify for monetary compensation. The insurance companies can be challenged in court. 

Treatment Required

The medical treatment required by the victim is another critical factor in calculating the pain and suffering damages. A severe bodily injury can require long-term treatments or therapy. If the injuries sustained by the victim resulted in multiple surgical procedures or lifelong disability, they might be entitled to higher compensation for their pain and suffering. 

Recovery Process and Timeline 

The recovery process can be extended depending on the type of medical treatment the victim requires. For example, some injuries result in surgery followed by months of bed rest or physical therapy. Another factor the court considers is whether future complications may affect the plaintiff’s lifestyle, such as loss of potential income. 

How Do Insurance Companies Determine Pain and Suffering In a Personal Injury Claim? 

The legal system has specific standards and procedures to calculate pain and suffering damages. However, insurance companies are under no obligation to adhere to guidelines for calculating pain and suffering damages. As a result, insurance companies will try to minimize personal injury or car accident claims payout through their investigation of the incident. 

If you initiate a claim against the at-fault driver, their insurance company might dispute your claim and disagree with the evidence you provide. Insurance companies can conduct investigations to determine liability in a car accident, and it is not uncommon for the insurance company to offer an unreasonable low amount to the victims as their first offer. 

The insurance company may want to see the medical records for the victim’s mental health treatment. Not receiving mental health treatment until you file a claim can weaken your case. Therefore, it is best to consult a medical expert regarding your emotional condition and seek therapy as soon as possible after the car accident. 

The length of the treatment and the recovery period also holds great significance for insurance companies when it comes to paying pain and suffering settlements. Less severe injuries, usually the ones that heal within a couple of weeks, might be considered ineligible for compensation. The insurance company might even avoid paying any compensation by claiming the fault of the victim. Professional guidance from a personal injury claim lawyer can be extremely useful in these situations. 

How Can I Prove Pain and Suffering? 

Personal injury claims are filed to compensate for the victim’s medical expenses and lost income. The most complex part of an injury claim is how to prove damages for pain and suffering. You will need to gather evidence to support your case. Here are examples of the types of evidence you will need to prove your personal injury damages in a pain and suffering claim: 

Medical Records

If you wish to pursue litigation or start a car accident claim, your medical records, bills, and history are deciding factors in the outcome of your injury case. Insurance companies often rely on your physician or medical personnel’s remarks on your medical records. Discuss your emotional suffering with your doctor and how your serious injuries have impacted your daily life. 

When your doctor is aware of your mental and physical situation, they can write a report whcih you can present to your injury attorney or insurance company to verify your medical condition. For example, the medical reprot can be confirm that your injuries caused severe emotional distress and physical pain and affected your quality of life. In that case, you can obtain total and fair compensation for your injuries. 

Witness Statements and Testimony

Witness statements are not only the statements taken from people who witnessed the accident but also the people, including your family and friends, who witnessed your recovery from the injuries. It is to get written statements from people who have been with you during your recovery.  

Car accident claims are complex matters that require expert witnesses, such as the medical personnel handling your case. If you hire an attorney, they can guide you on how to get witness statements and testimony that can help strengthen your case in court. 

Visual Evidence

Photos and videos of your injury can show what you went through after the accident. Therefore, before you acquire any medical treatment, try to take pictures of your injuries and keep taking periodic photos of your injuries during your recovery. 

In car accident claims, any surveillance video of how the accident happened can be used as evidence in court and in your injury claim to prove the liability of the opposing party. The more promising visual evidence you gather, the stronger your case will be. 

To ensure the pain and suffering damages calculated are accurate, take pictures of any property damage, such as the damage to your vehicle in a car accident. In addition, any audio or video of the accident can be helpful in court. 

Written Notes

Only you can describe what you felt and endured after the injury. Therefore, the best way to obtain fair compensation in your injury case is to write a detailed journal on your recovery and how the injuries have been emotionally traumatizing and deprived you of completing daily life activities. 

You can describe your depression and anxiety about what you have missed, such as your work, being unable to spend time with your family, and being hospitalized due to your injuries. All these details can help you prove pain and suffering in court. 

Police Reports 

Reports such as medical bills are mandatory evidence, but they are not the only kind of reports required to support your claim or personal injury case. To obtain the maximum compensation for your pain and suffering, you must gather other incident reports, such as a police report. 

When car accidents are severe, the local authorities, such as police, arrive to help and will write a detailed report unless the accident occurred on private property. The police report can include the injuries sustained by the victim, the number of witnesses and their contact information, and how the accident took place. A thorough police report of the accident can back your claim

Jugdes hammer and statiscope on a table

Personal Property Damage 

Another factor that indicates the physical and mental pain you suffered during the accident is any personal property item damaged during the accident. In addition, evidence of damaged personal property can reinforce existing proof and compel the insurance company to pay you higher compensation due to your pain and suffering damages.  

How Can I File a Claim for Pain and Suffering After an Accident? 

If you have sustained losses due to a car accident, you can file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company. However, proving pain and suffering can require a thorough procedure. Noneconomic damages can be compensated through court or by starting a third-party claim, but they are more challenging to prove. Unlike providing medical bills to justify economic damages, proving general damages or pain and suffering caused by a car accident is tricky. Apart from the mental distress from your injury, medical bills and additional recovery expenses, such as any necessary modification to your vehicle to home, can be included in your injury claim.  

Can I File a Claim Without an Attorney? 

It is possible to represent yourself in court for your car accident lawsuit or start a third-party claim by yourself, but it requires some legal understanding of the matter. If you are involved in a car accident that resulted in minor injuries, you may not need the aid of personal injury lawyers. However, for anything more serious, you should consider hiring an attorney. 

Without legal representation, you can spend more time and money on the case rather than focusing on your recovery. Additional expenses on top of already excessive medical bills would be a risk you should not take. 

Personal injury lawyers are experienced in car accident claims and well-versed in local, state, and federal laws regarding car accidents. They can also protect you from accepting unreasonably low settlement offers by the insurance company. You also get the added benefit of having the attorney handle the communications and settlement negotiations with the insurance company and the legal team of the opposing party. 

What Do I Need to Submit the Demand Letter to the Insurance Company? 

If you hire a personal injury lawyer, they can put together a demand letter for you based on the facts of the case and help you calculate the compensation you deserve.

You can initiate a claim without the aid of an attorney; however, you might struggle to calculate pain and suffering damages yourself. In that case, you may need to rely on the insurance company to offer you an amount based on your medical bills, lost income, any police reports of the accident,, witness statements, and any pictures or videos of the crash and your injuries. Make sure you keep all original documents of the evidence with you and only submit copies with the demand leter. 

The demand letter should clearly state the facts, describe what happened at the scene of the accident and the aftermath, and explain how the other driver is liable for the accident. It should also describe your injuries and how they affected your lifestyle, and finally, list all pain and suffering damages that you incurred. 

When Does a Case Qualify for Pain and Suffering Damages? 

Pain and suffering cases can take a few weeks to several months to complete. As a first step, you will need to determine if your case qualifies for pain and suffering. If you believe the accident has had a drastic impact on your life and mental well-being, the best decision is to contact an attorney.

The personal injury attorney will help you document your pain and suffering and inform you how the case can proceed in court. For example, in serious car accidents, it is challenging to predict the long-term cost of pain and suffering. However, having an attorney by your side will help you attain compensation and start a claim within the state’s statute of limitations. 

Can You Sue The Other Driver for Pain and Suffering Damages?

You can seek an out-of-court settlement for pain and suffering damages, but you may unintentionally agree to unfair terms or might not obtain the compensation you deserve for the injuries. You can pursue litigation against the liable driver and sue them for all economic and noneconomic damages from the car accident. The statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit concerning pain and suffering damages varies between states. 

The amount of compensation awarded to the victim is also capped in most states. For instance, in some states, the pain and suffering compensation awarded in personal injury lawsuits is no more than $500,000. 

When to Contact a Law Firm? 

It is best to contact a law firm as early as possible in the legal proceedings. Your top priority should be to get medical attention for yourself and your passengers. The earlier you can get an attorney involved, the more positive impact they can have on your case. 

If you are concerned about attorney fees, most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation and case evaluation to guide you on the best course of legal action. However, even without a free case evaluation, hiring an attorney is worth the investment for your peace of mind and to get the justice you deserve. 

You can choose to represent yourself in court; however, hiring an attorney increases your chances of getting maximum compensation for your emotional trauma, physical discomfort, and other damages. A personal injury attorney can help you gather the required evidence and expert witnesses to testify in court to support your case. With the help of an experienced attorney, you can focus on recovering from the accident while the attorney handles all the legal matters of the case.

By Maho | Prentice, LLP Attorneys at Law on November 3, 2022