How Are Damages Determined When Suing for Pain and Suffering?

If you believe you have a personal injury case and you're suing for pain and suffering, you're likely wondering how damages are calculated.

Did you slip and fall on unsalted ice outside your work? Did you trip over debris left behind by a construction company?

Have you experienced brain or bodily injury from a car accident? Maybe you even lost an appendage in a faulty machine at work! If so, you may have a case to sue for pain and suffering.

But how exactly are damages calculated? Keep reading to learn what insurance adjusters look at to determine how much money you're awarded when you're suing for pain and suffering. We've broken it down into five parts.

1. Medical Expenses

Adjusters use a loose "formula" to determine their initial settlement offers. The first part of the formula is the actual medical expenses incurred by you, the injured party.

Medical expenses include hospital bills, ambulance rides, specialist visits, and even general physician visits that result from the incident. It can also include physical therapy and emotional therapy.

In a personal injury case, the responsible party--whether it be a private individual or the company you work for--is first and foremost responsible to cover your medical expenses. This means that their initial offer should never be lower than the amount you've paid for treatment! If it is, now you know to reject it right away.

2. Pain and Suffering

After adding up all of your medical expenses, the adjuster will then add in a certain amount for "pain and suffering." Pain and suffering includes the following factors:

  • Physical pain (like a broken leg from a fall)
  • Permanent physical disability (like paralysis, limp, or brain damage)
  • Permanent disfigurement (like bodily burns)
  • Mental and emotional damages (like PTSD)
  • Lost experiences, including education (like missing a semester of school)

The adjuster will take the total amount of your medical expenses and multiply it by 1.5 - five, depending on how they judge your pain and suffering. If you just sprained your ankle at work, they might multiply your expenses by 1.5. If you were in a horrific car crash, they might multiply it by five or even higher.

Of course, this means that the amount they choose to multiply it by is totally subjective to their opinion. They might multiply it by three but you think your case deserves at least a five. This is why you have to negotiate!

The initial settlement offer is usually the lowest possible amount, so be careful not to accept anything too quickly. Understanding this formula will surely help you.

3. Lost Income

Imagine you work a manual labor job to support your family. You break your back on the job one day, and can't work for at least 8-12 weeks, most likely more. What are you and your family supposed to do for food, gas, and cost of living during that time?

Good news for you is, your company can't just hang you to dry in times like that. The responsible party in your personal injury case, in this case your company, must compensate you for the income you'll lose due to missed work.

Whether you'll miss a week or a full year, you shouldn't have to go without income because of the injury. The insurance adjuster will add this lost income on top of the amount from the first two points we covered.

This amount (medical expenses + pain and suffering + lost income) is the baseline amount most adjusters will offer at first. Remember, this is the baseline. You're meant to try to negotiate higher.

If you're shaky in negotiations, or get into a negotiation and feel like you're being low-balled, consider contacting a personal injury lawyer. Their entire job is to thoroughly understand your case, then get you the best possible compensation.

4. Severity and Longevity of Injury

There are many things to take into consideration when calculating your pain and suffering, also called "special damages." One such is the severity and longevity of your injury.

Tendonitis (from lifting boxes, for example) takes six weeks to heal before you can work again, while heart surgery takes at least eight weeks just to get back to basic tasks like driving. So why would you accept the same compensation for the two?

One is obviously more serious and long-lasting than the other. Especially if your injury will lead (or has led) to lifelong health issues, like epilepsy, a heart murmur, or chronic pain. The adjuster's formula should include the seriousness and permanence of your injury, as should your personal calculations!

5. Severity and Longevity of Treatment

Along with the severity and longevity of your injury itself, the personal injury calculation should also include the severity and longevity of your treatment. Some injuries illicit much more (and more intense) treatment than others.

Treating a broken wrist requires a hospital visit, subsequent physician visits, a cast, and possibly pain medication. Treating cancer, on the other hand, requires specialist visits, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, lab work, hospital stays, and countless medical scans and tests.

Your settlement amount should reflect the seriousness, trauma, and intensity of the treatment you must endure! Again, the starting offer you receive might not accurately reflect what you feel you're owed because of your treatment.

When suing for pain and suffering, don't forget that the severity and longevity of your treatment should be included in your compensation! This is a good point to come back to if you feel that the adjuster's settlement offer is too low.

Know What to Expect When You're Suing for Pain and Suffering

You don't have to be in the dark when it comes to your personal injury case. Negotiations, settlements, big corporations, and insurance companies can all be scary things. But now you can approach your case with knowledge, numbers, and understanding.

Don't leave anything in your case to chance. Understand how adjusters calculate their settlement offers before you even start negotiating! And remember: negotiators don't reveal what's behind their numbers, so you don't have to either.

Use the formula and steps in this article to make your own calculations when suing for pain and suffering. Then negotiate with confidence. Check out our other articles about law, self-help, and lifestyle!