If you suffer an injury because of someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you are often entitled to pursue compensation against that party or his insurance company. In addition to providing evidence that the other party was legally responsible for the accident, you also need to show how much you should be paid. Part of this amount – the “special damages” like medical expenses and lost wages – are relatively straightforward. But “general damages” like pain and suffering are not as well understood. A personal injury lawyer can determine how much your claim is worth and advocate for maximum compensation.
What constitutes pain and suffering in a lawsuit?
“Pain and suffering” is a broad, catch-all term that encompasses both the physical pain and the emotional stress brought about by the injury. The physical pain can include things like ongoing soreness, physical disability (temporary or permanent), and scarring or other disfigurement. Emotional and other non-physical suffering can include anxiety, trauma, depression, embarrassment, impaired quality of life, and loss of consortium.
These non-economic damages are referred to as “general” damages because they are not easy to quantify in a given situation the way economic losses like medical bills are. Instead, they are understood to generally apply in the case of an injury. But this does not mean that you should be complacent – pain and suffering typically accounts for a significant proportion of a settlement or award so you should work with a lawyer who will fight for full compensation or they may be under-valued.
Are pain and suffering awards capped?
Some states have enacted laws limiting the amount that a plaintiff may recover in non-economic compensatory damages. For example, in Maryland in 2019, non-economic damages in both personal injury and wrongful death cases is $860,000. New Jersey does not limit non-economic damages like pain and suffering in this way, although it does place a cap on punitive damages. New York does not place any caps on personal injury awards, allowing accident victims to recover as high an amount as is justified by the severity of their suffering.
Proving pain and suffering
Since pain and suffering are subjective, it is important to have convincing evidence to help substantiate your claim. Your medical bills will play a part but they will not tell the whole story of how the injuries have impacted you.
Speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to get an informed idea of what other information may be helpful for establishing your claim. It may include diaries of how you felt day-to-day after the accident, expert testimony from a doctor who can explain how long pain should last, or even therapy-related information that shows the emotional toll you have been through. It is important to work with an attorney throughout this process because will give up some privacy in making claims based on medical or therapeutic records but your lawyer can help protect you from overreaching by the other party.
Calculating pain and suffering
There are two common methods for calculating pain and suffering. The method more commonly used is a multiplier. This takes the total of the economic damages and multiplies it by a factor depending on the severity of the injuries. The less commonly used method is referred to as “per diem”; a value is assigned for each day that suffering is expected to continue, and that is multiplied by the number of days it should persist.
Most personal injury claims are settled with insurance companies before trial. Insurance adjusters usually base pain and suffering calculations on computer programs like Colossus. These programs ask a series of questions related to the claim, including details about medical treatment, degree of impairment, geographic location of the injury, and even the plaintiff’s attorney’s history of taking claims all the way to trial. It is important that you choose an attorney who understands the factors that these programs take into account – without a strong advocate on your side, the insurance adjuster may want to conveniently overlook some key factors when generating a claim value via the program.
Partner with an attorney who will fight for full compensation
Awards for pain and suffering can vary drastically because they depend on the experience of the person suffering. When you have been injured in an accident in New York or New Jersey, put your trust in a personal injury lawyer who understands the system and the stakes.
Call the office of Katrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman today to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer in New York or New Jersey. We are here to serve you and offer evening appointments for your convenience.