Personal Injury

How Is Pain and Suffering Valued in a Car Accident Case?

By Carol DiBari, Attorney
An explanation of "pain and suffering" damages in the context of a car accident case, and a look at two methods used by insurance companies to assess the dollar value of these kinds of damages.

If you're making an injury claim after a car accident, especially after a serious crash where you received a significant amount of medical treatment, compensation for your "pain and suffering" might make up the biggest component of your damages in a settlement.

But it can be tricky to tie a dollar value to your "pain and suffering" losses. Insurance companies usually rely on two different methods to assess a claimant's pain and suffering in connection with a car accident and resulting injuries. These two methods -- the multiplier method and the "per diem" or daily rate method -- are discussed in-depth below.

What Is "Pain and Suffering"?

First things first. The definition of "pain and suffering" is pretty broad, and often has both a physical and an emotional/psychological component. It covers all physical pain and discomfort you experience as a result of the accident, the ensuing injuries, and your medical treatment. It also includes the negative mental and psychological effects of the accident and your injuries, such as anxiety, fear, depression, sleep problems, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

Except after the most minor of car accidents, or those where there is only property damage, a car accident claim will typically include a "pain and suffering" component, sometimes referred to as "general damages." (Learn more about General and Special Damages in a Car Accident Case.)

The Multiplier Method

The multiplier method calculates "pain and suffering" damages by taking the known, actual or "special" damages -- such losses as medical bills and lost income -- and multiplying that dollar amount by a certain number that corresponds to the severity of your injuries. For example, if your actual damages are $5,000 and the insurance company uses 3 as the multiplier, your total damages would be $15,000 -- $5,000 in actual damages and $10,000 in "pain and suffering."

Insurance companies typically use a number from 1 to 5 as the multiplier, depending on the type, severity and duration of your injuries and the extent of your medical treatment. The multiplier used can also be affected by the type of accident and whether there are any aggravating circumstances. In the case of a minor fender bender, the insurance company will likely use 1 or 2 as the multiplier, while in the case of a serious accident, the insurance company will use a higher multiple of 3 or 4. In exceptional cases, involving severe and debilitating injuries, the insurance company may use a multiple higher than 5.

The "Per Diem" or Daily Rate Method

Under the "per diem" or "daily rate" method, "pain and suffering" is calculated by assigning a certain amount of money to each day (or week) you continued to suffer from your injuries as a result of the accident, including days where necessary medical treatment brought on additional negative effects. That "per diem" amount is then added to the amount of your actual economic damages.

For example, assume that your economic damages are $5,000 (medical bills plus lost income) and that the “per diem” value assigned to your "pain and suffering" is $100. If you suffer from your injuries for 2 months (60 days), the “per diem” method dictates that you multiply 60 days by $100 to find that your "pain and suffering" is valued at $6,000. Your total damages would then be $11,000 -- $5,000 in actual damages and $6,000 in "pain and suffering."

Note that a common method of assigning a dollar value to each day is start with your daily employment income as a baseline.

What Is a Reasonable Amount for "Pain and Suffering"?

Perhaps the best way to calculate damages for “pain and suffering” is to use both the multiplier and "per diem" methods to obtain a ballpark figure. Then, use some common sense and the facts of your particular case to reasonably value your "pain and suffering" for the purposes of making an initial demand to the other driver. But remember that these methods are only a starting point. An experienced car accident attorney can help you assess the value of your claim and put together your best case.

(Get the basics on Damages in a Car Accident Case.)

If you've been involved in a car accident within the last three years, please consider taking our car accident survey so that we can include your experience in Martindale-Nolo's 2018 Car Accident Survey. Your participation will help inform others about their situation and options before dealing with their car accident.

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