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

After a car accident, injured parties must inventory their damages. The two main types are economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages include medical bills, car repairs, property damage and out-of-pocket expenses. Receipts and paperwork help victims calculate how much to seek in damages from the at-fault party.

Pain and suffering is an example of non-economic damages. Car accident victims deserve compensation for the emotional distress, anxiety, stress and physical pain they endure because of the accident. Unlike economic damages, parties often have a harder time calculating pain and suffering damages. Two common methods include the “multiplier” method and the “per diem” method.

The “Multiplier” Method

The “multiplier” method relies on multiplying the personal injury victim’s economic damages by a specific number. Usually, legal representatives multiply economic damages by three to calculate a reasonable amount. For instance, if a car accident victim’s medical bills totaled $6,000 and she or he lost $1,000 in lost wages, the person would multiply the economic damages ($7,000) by three for a total of $21,000.

Now, insurance providers hesitate to instantly agree that a multiple of three represents a fair way to calculate pain and suffering. The current trend is to take economic damages and multiply the sum by a figure calculated by software programs. This method often undervalues the accident victim’s claim. Factors that affect the multiplier include injury severity, recovery time and aggravating circumstances. For example, a car accident victim who suffers a spinal cord injury and undergoes a lengthy recovery likely experiences worse pain and suffering than a victim who only sustains a few bruises.

The more serious the car accident and its resulting injuries, the higher the multiplier. An example of an aggravating circumstance that may increase the multiplier is if the at-fault driver drove drunk. Alternatively, if the victim bears fault for the accident, that may lower the multiplier.

Multiplier Method Considerations

Car accident victims should also consider the medical treatment they require after their personal injury. Sometimes, insurance companies feel victims seek unreasonable medical treatment compared to their injury severity. For instance, a victim may want to undergo three or four months of physical rehabilitation for a soft tissue injury. Injured parties benefit from getting the treatment they need and nothing more. Otherwise, they may endanger their legal case, which could result in plaintiffs being responsible for their remaining medical costs.

The “Per Diem” Method

For the “per diem” method, legal representatives and insurance companies use a daily rate to determine pain and suffering damages. Parties assign a money amount to each day or week a personal injury victim experiences pain and suffering because of the car accident.

For instance, say an accident victim’s medical bills totaled $7,000 and lost wages totaled $2,000, for a sum of $9,000. For three months after the car accident, the victim took regular trips to the doctor and took pain medication every day. After three months, the person recovered enough to get back to her or his routine. The person may calculate a $300 daily value. With the “per diem” method, the victim would multiply 90 days (three months) by $300 for a sum of $27,000. 

The daily rate comes from the amount of money the person would earn each day uninjured. In the example above, the person normally earns $300 a day, but cannot work while recovering, making $300 a reasonable valuation method. 

“Per Diem” Method Considerations

Car accident victims who use the “per diem” method to calculate their pain and suffering must have a reason for choosing a specific per diem number. Juries and judges often want a viable reason for the plaintiff’s reasoning.

Using Both Methods

For peace of mind and the sake of being thorough, it makes sense to use both methods to determine pain and suffering. After calculating damages using both methods, injured parties should consider factors such as others involved in the car accident, injury severity and whether they sustained permanent harm. Whether victims lost their jobs or took a lot of time off to recover also affects the situation.

Using both methods and considering various factors helps parties reach a reasonable claim value. For example, if a per diem calculation gives a value of $18,000 and a multiplier gives a value of $30,000, a solid middle ground would be $24,000. Extensive surgeries, burns and permanent injuries increase the valuation. Bearing partial fault for the accident and suffering only minor injuries reduces the $24,000 amount.

Using Medical Records as Proof of Pain

No matter which method personal injury victims use, they must communicate with their medical team. That means they should share all aches, pains and discomfort they experience, no matter how minor. 

Usually, insurance adjusters only take reports of pain and discomfort seriously when they appear on a doctor’s report or in medical records. If an injured person only reports pain and discomfort verbally or on an injury claim, the adjuster may dispute it.

Understanding Contributory and Comparative Negligence

Even when it becomes clear which party bears fault for a car accident, the injured party could also bear partial blame. Shared fault affects how much personal injury victims may seek in damages. States have comparative negligence and contributory negligence rules.

Comparative Negligence Rules

Under comparative negligence rules, the system assigns fault to parties involved in the accident. Defendants may raise a partial defense and assign partial fault to the plaintiff. For instance, say Person A runs a red light and hits Person B, who drove distracted. Under the comparative negligence system, Person A could bear 80% of the fault for running the red light while Person B bears 20% of the blame for driving while looking at an electronic device. If Person B’s losses total $100,000, she or he only receives $80,000 rather than the full $100,000.

Comparative negligence differs from state to state. In a pure comparative negligence state, such as Florida and California, injured parties may recover damages no matter their percentage of negligence. This applies even if their percentage of negligence exceeds the defendant’s percentage.

Modified comparative negligence states, such as Georgia and Colorado, limit the injured victim’s recovery if her or his fault exceeds a specific number. For instance, the injured party may only recover damages if his or her fault is less than the defendant’s. That means the injured victim must bear less than 50% responsibility for the accident. 

Contributory Negligence Rules

States that follow contributory negligence rules include Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. Car accident victims in these states cannot recover any compensation if the defendant proves the plaintiff contributed to the collision. The plaintiff’s contribution percentage makes no difference. Even if the defendant’s negligence proves much greater, the plaintiff receives nothing.

Examples of Accident Victim Negligence

Everyone on the road, including passengers, pedestrians and bikers, must tend to their well-being and everyone else’s. When accident victims do not take proper measures to uphold this responsibility, defendants may deem them negligent. Examples of accident victim negligence include speeding drivers, jaywalking pedestrians and distracting passengers.

Contact Us

If you were in a car accident, you deserve to protect your right to pain and suffering damages. Contact a Fielding Law representative today to build your case. Call 877-880-4090 or submit an online form. Let us show you why we’re injury attorneys you can trust.