How Do I Prove My Pain and Suffering After A Car Accident?
When you’ve been involved in a motor vehicle collision in Pennsylvania and have suffered injuries because of someone else’s negligent actions, you might have the right to pursue compensation from the at-fault party through a personal injury lawsuit. By filing a lawsuit, you could receive compensatory damages for the losses you have suffered, including monetary amounts to pay for your economic and non-economic losses.
Pain and suffering damages are non-economic losses and are less tangible and more difficult to prove than your economic losses. It is easier to calculate the value of your economic damages, including medical expenses, wage losses, and others since you can add up your bills and lost wages to arrive at a total and provide documentation to prove them.
However, depending on the type of auto insurance you have, you might also be able to recover compensation for your non-economic damages, which are in addition to your economic losses. Proving pain and suffering damages is more difficult since you won’t be able to present receipts and wage statements to show what they are worth. However, when you work with an experienced personal injury lawyer at Raynes & Lawn, your attorney can value your pain and suffering damages and help you gather evidence to support your claim. Here’s some information about pain and suffering damages and how they are calculated in a car accident case.
Types of Compensatory Damages
Compensatory damages are monetary amounts that are meant to compensate you for your losses when you have been the victim of negligence. There are two types of compensatory damages, including economic or special damages and non-economic or general damages. The special damages you might have following a car accident include different types of pecuniary losses you have already suffered or can be expected to incur in the future. Some examples of special damages include the following:
- Past and future medical expenses to treat your injuries
- Past and future physical therapy costs
- Past and future rehabilitation expenses
- Cost of prescriptions
- Cost of prosthetic devices
- Past wage losses
- Future anticipated wage losses
- Property damage
Any out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred or will likely incur in the future qualify as special damages and are recoverable in a car accident claim.
The second type of compensatory damages is non-economic or general damages. Unlike special damages, general damages are intangible losses that you have suffered and are likely to suffer in the future. Since they do not involve monetary transactions, they are harder to prove.
Some examples of general damages that might be recoverable in a car accident claim include the following:
- Past and future physical pain and suffering
- Past and future emotional distress/psychological trauma
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Reduction in the quality of life
- Loss of the enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
There isn’t a foolproof method to place a value on general damages. However, with certain injuries, it is considered to be general knowledge that they are significant and can be assumed to be painful. Injuries that are severe enough to prevent you from participating in activities you formerly enjoyed, caused you to suffer trauma or other mental health impacts, resulted in disfigurement or disabilities, and others are recognized as having more of an impact than the dollars spent on treating them. Because of this, the law allows injured victims to pursue general damages in addition to special damages based on the type of insurance they have in Pennsylvania.
Pain and Suffering and No-Fault Insurance in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is a no-fault state for auto insurance, but it has a unique system in place. If you have no-fault or limited tort coverage, your auto insurance company will pay for your medical treatment and other pecuniary losses up to your policy limits no matter whether you or the other driver were at fault. However, you can’t step outside of the no-fault system to file a claim against the other motorist unless your injuries are deemed to be serious under the law.
However, Pennsylvania allows motorists to opt out of the state’s no-fault insurance system when they purchase auto insurance policies. Insurance companies must inform drivers about their options at the time they purchase their policies or no later than 45 days before it is time for them to renew them under 75 Pa.C.S. § 1705. Here’s some more information about the two coverage options in Pennsylvania and the availability of pain and suffering damages under each one.
Limited vs. Full Tort Coverage in Pennsylvania
Motorists can either select limited tort or full tort auto insurance in Pennsylvania. If you choose limited tort auto insurance coverage, your ability to seek full compensation for your injuries and losses will be limited when another driver is at fault. Limited tort coverage means that your policy will pay for your medical treatment and other economic losses you suffered because of your accident. However, you will not be able to recover compensation for any of your general or pain and suffering damages unless your injury qualifies as serious under the law. There are a couple of exceptions to this general rule, but limited tort coverage generally will not allow you to recover pain and suffering damages. While it is cheaper, it might not be the best coverage option for you.
Full tort auto insurance in Pennsylvania is more expensive, but it provides you with more protection in a car accident. With full tort coverage, you will be allowed to file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver to recover compensation for both your special and general damages even when your injuries are not considered serious under Pennsylvania law.
How Do You Prove Pain and Suffering Damages?
Before you can recover pain and suffering damages, you will need to prove them. You will need to show how your mental health and lifestyle have been affected by your injuries. Your current pain and suffering are what you have to go through from the date of your injury accident until you complete medical treatment. Your future pain and suffering are what you will go through once your treatment is over and will last into the future.
Evidence to Support a Claim for Pain and Suffering Damages
You will need to determine why your demand for pain and suffering damages is justified before you file your claim. A personal injury lawyer at Raynes & Lawn will understand how to do this and will help you. You will need to list all of the reasons why you should be awarded pain and suffering damages, and the argument you make must be supported by facts and evidence to prove your claim.
Your medical records can be important for a pain and suffering damages claim. When you see your doctors, you should make sure to talk about how your injuries affect your daily activities and life. Including a copy of your relevant medical records and doctors’ notes with your demand can help to increase your chances of recovering compensation.
The following examples show how medical records might help to support a pain and suffering damages claim:
- A doctor’s restriction to not lift more than 10 pounds, leaving a new mother unable to carry or pick up her baby
- Therapist records showing you seeing a therapist to treat you for post-traumatic stress disorder caused by your crash
- Prescription for sleeping pills to help you sleep because you have nightmares
- Pictures of your injuries during your treatment regimen to show they caused you physical pain and suffering
- Photographs of scars and disfigurement to support your claim that your injuries have permanently altered your appearance and harmed your self-esteem and ability to form relationships with others
Witnesses who know you and how your injuries have impacted your life can also be helpful. Ask your friends, acquaintances, doctors, employer, and others if they can write down how your injuries have affected your ability to engage in activities you previously enjoyed, impacted your ability to perform the tasks of your job, and affected your mood and outlook on life. Your witnesses can also write about anything that they have helped you with and the types of assistance you need with routine activities of daily living.
Keep a detailed journal with notes about your accident and how your injuries have affected your happiness and quality of life. Be descriptive and honest while explaining the degree of pain you feel each day, any help you need with tasks such as toileting, personal hygiene, cooking, cleaning, and other routine activities, and whether you experience fear of not recovering from your injuries. You should also describe any emotional trauma you experience because of your injuries and accident and how it affects your life.
How Insurance Companies Analyze Pain and Suffering
The first thing to note is that if you don’t seek medical attention, the insurance company will likely believe you probably didn’t suffer injuries. Failing to seek medical care following a car accident can make it difficult for you to recover any type of compensatory damages, including pain and suffering.
Insurance companies believe that injuries that require more medical treatment also will cause more pain and suffering as compared to injuries that only require minimal treatment. If your injury involves an extended period of treatment and a long recovery time, the insurance company will likely believe that your injury has caused you more pain and suffering than if you only had a short recovery period. Insurance adjusters make these assumptions when they evaluate injury claims.
Even if you have sustained injuries and are in pain, if you fail to seek medical care soon after your accident, the company will likely assume that your injuries aren’t very serious or were caused by an intervening event and use that to try to deny your claim. An insurance company won’t accept you at your word and will need evidence to support your claim for pain and suffering damages. If your injuries are corroborated through your medical records, and you went to the doctor immediately after your accident or within 48 hours, the insurance company will be likelier to assign a higher value to your injuries and your resulting pain and suffering claim.
If you suffered soft tissue injuries in your accident and went to see a doctor, the doctor likely noted their findings from conducting a physical exam in your medical records. This can help to support your claim that you were injured and experienced pain soon after your collision.
From an insurance company’s perspective, seeing a doctor immediately after your accident shows some evidence that your injury is valid and that your claim of pain and suffering is real.
Similarly, having to miss work and having lost wages as a result of your accident and injuries can also help to support your claim of pain and suffering damages.
How Much Are Pain and Suffering Damages Worth?
The insurance company handling your accident claim will begin by analyzing the nature of your injuries and the duration of the treatment you received. Insurance companies typically assume that injuries that involve long periods of recovery also result in more pain and suffering, which affects how adjusters value claims.
If you didn’t see a doctor, the company will likely not think that your claim is worth very much. It might also think that you are malingering and might not have been injured at all.
Methods Used to Calculate Pain and Suffering Damages
Insurance companies and personal injury lawyers use different methods to calculate pain and suffering damages. In most cases, the insurance company will calculate a lower value than what your attorney might, and your lawyer and the company will then try to negotiate to arrive at a fair and reasonable agreement. Here are a couple of the most common methods used to calculate pain and suffering damages.
Under the multiplier method, the insurance company and your personal injury lawyer will add up the total of your medical expenses and then multiply them by a number ranging from one-and-one-half to five. The insurance company will likely choose a lower multiplier than your personal injury lawyer. The number chosen will depend on several case-specific factors, including the following:
- The injuries’ severity
- How long the expected period of recovery might be
- Whether the claimant is expected to ever fully recover
- How the claimant’s injuries impact their daily life
- How clear it is that the defendant was at fault for causing the crash
For example, if your injuries were relatively minor, and you were able to fully recover within a few weeks of treatment, the adjuster might choose a lower number as a multiplier such as 2. If your medical bills totaled $3,000, that would mean that the adjuster would then arrive at a value of $6,000 for pain and suffering damages.
Per Diem Method
The per diem method is used less often by insurance companies to calculate pain and suffering damages. Under this approach, the adjuster will assign a dollar amount to each day you had to deal with the effects of your injuries and accident. However, it is difficult to determine an appropriate daily amount to use, and this method is typically not used to calculate permanent injuries or those involving long periods of recovery and extensive treatment.
When Should You File a Lawsuit for Pain and Suffering Damages?
Most car accident claims are resolved outside of court through the claims process. While this process can take months and can sometimes seem unending, most injured accident victims and insurance companies eventually reach a negotiated settlement that is fair and reasonable.
However, if you and the insurance company can’t agree on an important issue such as who was at fault or whether your injuries are real, or if the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement, you might have to file a formal lawsuit and go through the court process. In many cases, the parties will still eventually reach a settlement agreement after a lawsuit is filed sometime during the discovery process. Filing a lawsuit sometimes can help the insurance company understand that you are serious about your claim and are willing to put up a fight to recover the compensation you deserve.
If you think you might need to file a lawsuit, it’s important to know the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania. Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524, there is a two-year deadline for filing a car accident injury claim from the date of your collision. While there are a few exceptions to the statute of limitations, most people will only have a two-year window to file a lawsuit. If you wait too long, your lawsuit will be time-barred, which means that the court will dismiss it. Paying attention to the statute of limitations in your case is important. If the insurance claims process has dragged on for so long that the deadline is approaching and is just a few months or weeks away, it is a good idea to file a lawsuit to protect your ability to pursue compensation.
Do I need a Lawyer for Pain and Suffering?
Anytime you are injured in a car accident, it is a good idea to retain an attorney. While you are not required to be represented by a lawyer to file an injury claim, trying to handle the claims process on your own can place you at a disadvantage. Insurance companies are large corporations with teams of defense lawyers who are prepared to vigorously fight against claims. If you try to represent yourself when you are injured and trying to recover, you will likely not be on even footing with the company or its legal representatives.
Hiring an experienced car accident lawyer with a strong record of success both in and out of the courtroom can help in multiple ways. First, retaining a lawyer shows the insurance company that you are serious about your claim. Your attorney can also help you avoid making critical errors that could harm your claim, advise you about the process and what to expect, and handle all of the negotiations for you. Your lawyer can investigate your accident, determine liability, gather evidence, locate and interview witnesses, and work with experts as needed. If your lawyer also has a successful record at trial, the insurance company might be likelier to offer a fair settlement rather than risk a possible loss to you at trial.
Experienced injury lawyers can even the playing field between large corporate insurance companies and car accident victims. Being represented by a skilled and competent attorney might help you recover far more compensation than you might be able to recover on your own, including pain and suffering damages.
Contact an Attorney
Being injured in a car accident can be a life-changing experience. If you sustained serious injuries in a collision that was not your fault, you might be entitled to recover both economic damages and pain and suffering damages. Retaining an attorney who is experienced in handling serious car accident claims might help to increase the chances that you will recover full compensation for all of your losses.
At Raynes & Lawn, our experienced lawyers have been fighting for the rights of accident victims for more than 50 years. We have successfully recovered tens of billions of dollars for our clients and have the right blend of legal experience, ethics, and skill to handle your case. We offer free consultations and work on a contingent-fee basis. This means that you will not have to pay any attorney’s fees unless we recover compensation for you through a settlement or a jury verdict. To learn more, call us today to request a consultation at 1-800-535-1797.
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