Readers have been reaching out with questions about car insurance and pain and suffering settlements. People are particularly curious about whether or not insurance companies always pay those injured in auto accidents for their pain and suffering.
So, let’s look at what elements factor into a pain and suffering settlement, and which ones don’t. Before you read further, remember: It’s vital to review your case with an attorney before discussing any kind of settlement offer with an insurance company. This is true even if you live in a no-fault state. The good news is that our national network of qualified attorneys can review your case for free.
What Does “Pain and Suffering” Mean In Terms of Auto Accident Settlements?
Insurance companies use the phrase “pain and suffering” to indicate a monetary payment for experiences that are hard to calculate in clear financial terms. In other words, it’s an expense that doesn’t come with a receipt that you can submit for reimbursement.
If that sounds confusing, think of it this way: If you break a bone, you can calculate how much that’s going to cost you. You just need to know what your insurance covers and how many days to take off work. You can do this because these things have a clear a monetary value: your deductible is $1,000, for example. If you make $350 per day and must take a week off work, you know that cost is $1,750.
But a car accident injury can affect you in ways that go beyond doctor’s appointments and lost workdays. These are often related to mental health. For example, you might sink into a depression if you break your arm and can no longer paint or break an ankle and can no longer walk. Or you might become anxious at the thought of being in a car. Or your relationships could suffer or even dissolve because a stressful accident. There are countless ways we might quantify pain and suffering because we all react to stressful events differently.
It can also include costs you will incur sometime in the future as part of your ongoing treatment. For example: Let’s say you have whiplash from another car hitting you from behind. You may need ongoing physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractor’s visits, etc. for years to fully recover. However, the insurance company will only offer to pay for treatments during this calendar year. Pain and suffering can cover expenses you haven’t incurred yet but likely will based on the nature of your injury.
How Do Insurance Companies Calculate Pain and Suffering?
Even though it seems impossible to assign a monetary value to a person’s pain and suffering, insurance companies have ways of doing just that. While there’s more than one method, the “multiplier method” is the most common.
Basically, an insurance company will add up all quantifiable fees in your claim (medical bills, property damage, lost wages, etc.). Then, they’ll multiply that total by a number that typically falls somewhere between 2 and 4.
It’s an insurance adjuster’s job to determine that number. The adjuster will consider multiple factors to do this, like:
- Severity of your accident
- Extent of your physical injuries
- Whether or not they already paid you for prior claims
Which Auto Accidents Pay Cash for Pain and Suffering?
Not every auto accident results in victims receiving a cash settlement for pain and suffering. There are different reasons why this is so.
First, if you are at fault for your auto accident, it’s unlikely to impossible to get money for pain and suffering. Each state’s laws determine whether you can receive payment for pain and suffering if you are partially at fault. And no two states have identical insurance regulations or laws regarding auto accident claims.
Second, if you have an accident but no physical injuries, you cannot receive pain and suffering. In other words, if you have car repairs but no medical bills, then pain and suffering doesn’t apply to you.
What Is a Non-Economic Award?
When an insurance company pays for physical damages, that’s called an economic award. Claims with medical bills and injuries are called bodily injury liability claims. The average payout in 2020 for bodily injury liability claims was $20,235.
When an insurance company pays for pain and suffering, they call that a non-economic award. It is almost impossible to receive a non-economic award without an attorney lobbying on your behalf. Why? Because, as explained above, pain and suffering can be impossible to quantify and difficult to explain, especially by someone recently traumatized by an accident.
What Should I Do If I’m In an Accident?
The most important thing you can do after an accident is to seek medical care for any and all injuries. This is because a pain and suffering settlement is never possible without an injury for which you sought medical attention.
If you have an injury from an accident that wasn’t your fault, consulting an attorney before accepting a settlement offer from an insurance company is key. Attorneys can help you understand what you’re owed for your injuries, and they can advocate on your behalf for the best possible outcome. In fact, auto accident attorneys typically get victims 3.5 times more money compared to people who settle directly with insurance.
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.