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In personal injury lawsuits, damages are awarded to compensate injured parties for their medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and something called “pain and suffering.” But there’s a lot to consider when it comes to how to calculate pain and suffering.

There are no hard-and-fast rules. This article will explain how insurance companies usually calculate pain and suffering, as well as how personal injury lawyers calculate pain and suffering.

If you’re suing after a car accident and trying to determine the value of your claim, the best thing to do is to contact a lawyer. Use the tool below to reach out for a free consultation. In some injury cases, you may not need a lawyer, but if you decide to take your claim to court, a specialist may be able to help you get the money you deserve.

In this article:


What Is Pain And Suffering?

Many damages after a car accident are easily calculated. Medical costs, lost wages, and repair bills are set amounts that can be tracked by reviewing the receipts. Someone who is charged $1,000 for a six-block ambulance ride and $3,000 for a two-minute MRI scan can easily show a court how much they are owed for medical expenses.

But the negative impact an accident can have on your life may not be fully summarized by medical bills alone. Imagine someone severely injures their shoulder in an accident. Even after a successful surgery, that person can no longer lift their arms fully above their head. How do you put a price on that? It’s not easy to calculate the cost of never playing basketball again.

Physical and mental anguish are a lot harder to quantify than medical bills. This kind of non-monetary damage is what is typically referred to as “pain and suffering.”

Some examples of what is considered pain and suffering include:

  • Loss of a family member or pet
  • Loss of career
  • Emotional distress, grief
  • Embarrassment/humiliation
  • Chronic physical pain or discomfort
  • Permanent disability
  • Inconvenience
  • Depression, anxiety, memory loss, insomnia, or any emotional disorder

Essentially, pain and suffering can include anything that negatively impacts your life.

How To Calculate Pain And Suffering

Calculating pain and suffering is not an exact science. How much you are owed for pain and suffering depends on the severity of your case and the skill of your lawyer. To receive pain and suffering compensation, there needs to be a reasoning behind whatever amount is requested. While there is subjectivity involved in determining pain and suffering, you must be rigorous with your methodology.

Multiplier Method

The multiplier method is the most common means to calculate pain and suffering. First, add the total amount of your medical bills. Then, choose a number between 1.5 and 5, based on the severity of your injuries. Multiply your medical bills by this number for your pain and suffering value.

Lower numbers closer to 1.5 are more common, and higher multipliers are reserved for especially long-lasting injuries such as permanent disfigurement or loss of mobility. The degree to which the other party is at fault can also play a role in determining this number. For example, say your total medical bills add up to $100,000. Your injuries are serious, but unlikely to result in long-term suffering so you choose a low number of 2. This means you would request $100,000 in medical bill compensation and $200,000 for pain and suffering.

The problem with the multiplier method is that the multiplier amount is arbitrary. Two lawyers using the same method may come to dramatically different amounts if they use different multipliers.

Another downside to this method is that your suffering may not scale directly with the cost of medical bills. A permanently disfiguring facial scar may not cost much to treat, but can have a profound impact on the rest of your life.

Per Diem Method

The per diem method is another common means to calculate pain and suffering. This method is typically used when pain and suffering largely constitutes a lengthy or especially grueling rehabilitation period.

To use this method, you select a certain dollar amount for how much you should be compensated per day until you have healed as best you can. $100 is a typical amount. Many people also base the amount on their salary.

This method is not as good for calculating pain and suffering associated with permanent or long-term injuries. If the number of days a person has to deal with negative impacts from injuries is the rest of their life, the sum from using this method would be astronomical and almost certainly denied.

Pain Professional Method

This method is less common than others, but has been used. The pain professional method starts by describing the suffering that the injured person has to endure as a result of the accident.

Next, you imagine how much you would need to pay someone to voluntarily undertake that suffering. For example, think about how much you would need to pay someone to lay in traction for two weeks, or to wear a neck brace for a month.

Algorithm Method

When auto insurance companies calculate pain and suffering to determine settlement offers, they often use an algorithm. Insurance agents input information particular to the injury, and the model returns a number. These models are often proprietary, and different insurance companies use different models. The models may take a large number of factors into account. This can include things like:

  • Recovery length
  • If there is permanent loss or use of a body function
  • Severity of physical damages
  • Age
  • Gender

Models are designed by insurance companies themselves, so they may return smaller figures than what you may think is fair. It’s unlikely that an attorney arguing on your behalf would use such a model.

The algorithm method and the other methods described above are the most common ways to calculate pain and suffering, but any method could be used as long as the court and jury agree with the calculations. The key to receiving your desired settlement amount is that you present a convincing case as to why the reasoning behind your numbers make sense.

How To Increase Pain And Suffering Compensation

At the end of the day, pain and suffering damages may come down to a negotiation. In general, the more documentation you have, the more severe your injuries, the longer the recovery period, and the more clearly the other party is at fault, the better chance there will be a higher settlement.

You can help maximize the amount of pain and suffering damages you receive by collecting:

  • Doctor’s notes testifying to pain
  • Photographs of injuries
  • A daily journal about pain levels and your feelings
  • Prescriptions
  • Psychologist’s notes testifying to emotional suffering
  • Personal testimony
  • Testimony from those who knew you before and after the accident
  • Medical records

These things will help you prove pain and suffering in court. You should also consider contacting a personal injury attorney. An attorney will have experience making pain and suffering arguments and can help you negotiate before trial.

Injuries That Typically Receive High Pain And Suffering Compensation

The following types of accidents and injuries typically receive higher amounts for pain and suffering damages:

  • Accidents with fatalities
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Disfigurement, especially to the face
  • Extensive burns
  • Amputations
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Anything that has an ongoing and negative impact on your quality of life

Injuries That Typically Receive Low Pain And Suffering Compensation

Injuries that are unlikely to have a long-term impact and from which it is possible to heal completely do not result in high pain and suffering compensation. Examples of such injuries include:

  • Sprains, strains, and whiplash injuries
  • Low-impact collisions
  • Prior injuries
  • Injuries that have low or no medical bills

Additionally, if you share some of the blame for the accident, you are unlikely to receive as much for pain and suffering. Depending on your state, you may not receive any compensation if there is shared liability.

How Do I Sue For Pain And Suffering?

Many accident cases are settled without the need for a lawsuit. If you have been injured in an accident, the first step is to file an insurance claim. After you have filed a claim, the insurance company may present an offer that you feel is too low. In this case, you should contact an attorney to negotiate.

A lawyer can help you get the most money for a car accident. Should negotiations fail, the next step is to file a lawsuit against the person who caused the accident. The specific process and limitations may vary by state, but most personal injury claims will qualify for pain and suffering damages.

If you are severely injured after an accident, seek out the legal advice of a lawyer. An attorney can best explain how to calculate pain and suffering for your particular case and advocate on your behalf in negotiations and in court (should it come to that). Many lawyers offer free consultations and may even work for free, taking a percentage of any awarded damages in the event that your case is successful.

Use the tool below to get an estimate of how much you can get for your pain and suffering and to find a law firm that can help.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do you get for pain and suffering?

How much you can get for pain and suffering depends on your case. Minor, short-term injuries such as whiplash don’t usually result in significant pain and suffering compensation. Permanent or long-term injuries like disfigurement are likely to receive higher compensation.

Accidents that do not result in an injury are unlikely to be eligible for any pain and suffering compensation.

How do you negotiate pain and suffering?

The best way to negotiate for a higher pain and suffering settlement is to contract the services of a personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer will argue on your behalf. Typically, lawyers take into account the cost of medical bills and the severity of injuries when they negotiate pain and suffering.

How is emotional distress calculated?

There are many ways that emotional distress can be calculated to determine pain and suffering compensation. The two most common ways are known as the multiplier method and the per diem method.

The multiplier method multiplies the injured person’s hospital bills by a number between 1.5 and 5, depending on the severity of the injuries. The per diem method assigns a dollar value for a day of suffering (typically around $100), and multiplies this by the number of days that pass until the injured party has recovered from their injuries.

How do you explain pain and suffering?

Pain and suffering refers to the negative quality of life impact that an accident has on a person. While the financial impact of an accident can be easily calculated, pain and suffering is more abstract. Any negative effect that results from an accident could be considered “pain and suffering.”


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