When a car accident injury victim takes legal action against another party for their injuries, he or she may be eligible for compensation. The amount of compensation a claimant will be entitled to can vary from a few thousand to millions of dollars. Compensation totals are difficult to predict because of the many factors affecting the outcome of a car accident claim.
The extent to which a car accident victim may recover damages related to pain and suffering is particularly difficult to anticipate. Insurance companies and legal teams use many different tools and strategies to predict the monetary value of an accident claim. However, some recoverable costs are more easily quantifiable than others.
Pain and suffering is especially difficult to quantify due to its intangible nature. The value of the damage is not calculated in the same manner as economic damages such as medical bills and lost wages. Attorneys use past cases and experience, as well as a variety of other resources to estimate the value of your claim. However, due to the inherent uncertainty, you should not expect a specific settlement amount or verdict in your favor.
An experienced car accident attorney will diligently pursue the best outcome for your personal injury claim. They will fight to make sure you receive an amount you deserve for your pain and suffering. Below, we provide a more in-depth discussion of damages related to pain and suffering recovery. Factors that might increase or decrease the value of your claim are identified. Also, common strategies utilized by attorneys and insurance companies to calculate pain and suffering will be established.
What Is Pain and Suffering?
You may have an idea of what pain and suffering entails, especially if you have sustained injuries in a car accident. However, there is a legal definition of pain and suffering in the context of a personal injury claim. Put simply, pain and suffering is any physical pain or emotional anguish resulting from another party’s action or inaction. For motor vehicle accident victims, pain and suffering refers to the physical pain and emotional distress caused by the accident or any accompanying injuries.
Pain and suffering may include:
- Tangible damage to one’s body such as a traumatic brain injury, broken ribs, or amputation
- Chronic discomfort, aches, and pains
- Temporary or permanent restrictions on activity
- Loss of quality of life
- Emotional struggles such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder
- Humiliation resulting from scars, burns, or amputations
In Florida, a personal injury plaintiff might collect general damages or special damages. Pain and suffering is a type of general damages which, as mentioned above, is not easily quantifiable. Additionally, damages for pain and suffering depend on the “special” damages such as medical treatment costs and lost wages. The monetary amount is highly subjective and will vary from case to case. You, your lawyer, the other party’s lawyer, and insurance companies will all have different ideas of the amount of damages you deserve.
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Factors That May Increase or Decrease Damages for Pain and Suffering
Placing a value on your pain and suffering isn’t always an easy task. Your attorney and all insurance representatives will look at the facts of your case. They will and consider many different factors to determine an appropriate amount. You should expect an insurance company’s estimates of pain and suffering to be low. When determining the amount you should seek, some factors to consider include:
Severity of the Injury
The more severe and extensive the injuries you sustain in a car accident, the higher amount of compensation you might deserve. That includes the amount of compensation you deserve for pain and suffering. For example, a broken arm and mild whiplash, while painful, can often fully heal in a few weeks or months.
You may need to wear a brace around your neck or have your arm put in a cast. However, victims can typically expect to recover within a few weeks or months. On the other hand, the road to recovery will be more significant for individuals suffering from a severe traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. Either may lead to permanent brain damage or a permanent disability.
For more severe injuries, victims can expect a higher amount of compensation for pain and suffering. Severe car accident injuries typically require hospitalization, as well as, other inconveniences that can add to the value of recovery for pain and suffering. Florida law explicitly states that to be eligible for compensation, the accident victim must have a “permanent injury with a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement.”
Nature of the Injury
The nature of your injury may also factor into the amount you should receive for pain and suffering resulting from a car accident. Some injuries are life-changing, resulting in embarrassment, frustration, and anger. Damages for these types of injuries are referred to as a special kind of pain and suffering associated with scarring and disfigurement. Because of the delicate nature of these types of injuries, Florida law puts them in a separate category.
If you have suffered burns, scars, or had to undergo an amputation as a result of a car accident, you may receive additional compensation. The nature of the injury might also include the location of the injury on the body. For example, a scar on your shoulder won’t be worth as much as a scar on your face.
Prognosis for Recovery
The severity and nature of your car accident injuries are strongly related to your prognosis, which can impact compensation for pain and suffering. Complicated, severe, and catastrophic injuries have varying recovery periods, and, at times, full recovery is impossible. More severe injuries also make it difficult for doctors to predict the progression of recovery an accident victim might experience.
For example, the prognosis of head trauma, back injuries, and spinal cord injuries are especially hard to anticipate. A prognosis indicating that a full recovery is impossible or requires a miracle can increase the amount of recovery for pain and suffering. The worse your prognosis, the higher the amount of pain and suffering you may seek.
Extent of Economic Loss a Victim Incurs
Part of your car accident claim includes special damages, which refer to tangible damages that are much easier to quantify. Common special damages related to car accidents include costs associated with ambulance and emergency services, hospitalization, surgery, pain medication, lost wages, rehabilitation expenses, and home modification expenses. Additionally, you may be entitled to replacement services such as cleaning service, lawn care service, or any other costs associated with maintaining a home.
Accident victims and their families must save receipts to evidence the amount of economic loss incurred as a result of a car accident. Financially-burdened car accident victims might face foreclosure, bankruptcy, repossession, and/or massive credit card debt. All of the above add an extra layer of emotional stress on a car accident victim.
When victims have to manage a significant amount of financial loss, they may receive additional compensation for pain and suffering so long as the losses you have endured are related to the stress caused by your financial hardship.
Auto Insurance Policy Limits
Florida is one of close to a dozen no-fault auto insurance states. All no-fault insurance states require those who register a motor vehicle to carry a minimum amount of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. If you are involved in a car accident, you must file a claim under your PIP policy first, regardless of fault.
After meeting or exceeding your PIP policy coverage, you can leave the no-fault system and file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier. PIP insurance will only cover 80 percent of medical expenses and 60 percent of lost wages. You cannot receive compensation for pain and suffering from your PIP policy. If you sustain minor injuries with expenses that don’t exceed your PIP policy limits, it is unlikely that you will receive compensation for pain and suffering.
When suing an at-fault driver, the recovery for pain and suffering will be impacted by the policy limits of the driver’s bodily injury liability coverage. Thus, if your attorney values your claim, including pain and suffering, at $2 million, but the driver’s policy is only up to $300,000, you cannot sue for more than $300,000. As always, exceptions do exist, and you might go outside PIP insurance and directly sue the at-fault driver. You’ll want to ask a car accident lawyer about his.
Evidence That Supports Your Claim for Pain and Suffering
As mentioned, attorneys and insurance companies will review a wide range of evidence to determine the amount you deserve for pain and suffering. Evidence of pain and suffering may include:
- Medical records. Medical records documenting the costs of your injury, treatment, recovery, and prognosis.
- Bills for medical treatment. The sum total of your medical bills demonstrates the financial burden you are suffering as a result of your injuries. Medical treatment costs include bills for emergency medical transportation, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, medications, diagnostic imaging, and surgeries.
- Prescription records. A prescription record can reveal the extent of your pain and suffering. The type of medication your doctor prescribes can indicate that you have been dealing with pain or suffering in multiple ways. Prescriptions for anti-anxiety or antidepressants following a car accident can provide support for a claim for any emotional distress resulting from the accident.
- Photos of your injuries. Any visible injuries will likely be documented when you visit the hospital after an accident. However, you should take photos regularly throughout your recovery. Photographic evidence does not act as a substitute for medical records. Self-documented photos can bolster your claim for pain and suffering by providing a visual demonstration alongside written documents.
- Police report. The at-fault party or an insurance company may attempt to deny or devalue a claim by arguing that the car accident didn’t cause your injuries. Reviewing the police report can provide valuable facts that might add to the amount of compensation you deserve for pain and suffering. An accident report highlights how an accident occurred. The description may provide evidence that shows that your injuries are consistent with the nature of the accident.
- Witness statements. Insurance companies and your lawyer may contact individuals who had repeated contact with you before and after your car accident. Often, witnesses are colleagues or acquaintances who lack the biases associated with the more intimate relationships between spouses or partners. Witnesses who can attest to any changes or difficulties you have faced can increase the amount of compensation you deserve for pain and suffering.
- Expert opinions. Critical expert witnesses are typically medical experts. Often, attorneys and insurance companies will have one or more specialists review your case to support your claims. Expert witnesses can offer a supporting or alternative view of the prognosis provided by your doctor(s). For example, if you’ve suffered a brain injury, your attorney, the driver’s legal team, and the insurance company might ask a neurosurgeon to offer a medical opinion of your prognosis. In the alternative, a psychologist may be obtained to offer an opinion about any anxiety or depression stemming from the accident.
Calculating damages for pain and suffering isn’t an easy task for anyone involved in a car accident case. At-fault drivers and victims obviously have adverse goals. The best way to increase your chances of receiving the maximum amount for pain and suffering is to hire an experienced car accident attorney.
As your representative, an attorney will advocate for your rights. In the event you have lost a loved one in a car accident, Florida law permits eligible family members to take legal action. Eligible family members may be entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit against at-fault drivers. In addition, eligible survivors might receive compensation for the pain and suffering endured by their loved one from the time of injury to the time of death. Family members may also recover for their own emotional pain and suffering arising from the loss of a loved one.
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