How Do Experts Calculate Pain and Suffering Damages?
Car accidents do not only impact the person who is involved. They also impact the victim’s family, their coworkers, and the economy at large. The common damages are usually assigned to the victim. However, when a victim loses their life, their family will be forced to deal with the long-term economic losses of an accident.
Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages
After an accident, an injured party may be entitled to receive compensation or economic recovery for losses and harms sustained due to the fault or liability of another party. In a personal injury lawsuit, recovery is based on the kinds of damages that were sustained.1
A damage or remedy is a form of monetary compensation based on the breach of a duty and comes in two forms: compensatory to reimburse an injured party for losses or injuries and punitive to function as a form of punishment for wrongdoing.2
Compensatory damages can cover both tangible or economic losses as well as non-economic or intangible losses. A tangible loss is typically a straightforward monetary calculation of expenses and costs based on medical treatments, loss of income, loss of property, or legal fees. On the other hand, intangible losses do not have a specific monetary value identified within a bill.
On the other hand, intangible losses do not have a specific monetary value identified within a bill or receipt but instead are based on assigning an economic value to a particular pain and suffering or emotional distress.
How is Pain & Suffering Determined After an Auto Accident?
Pain and suffering is the most common form of an intangible damages based on the physical, mental, and emotional pain suffered in the past and expected in the future.3 Calculating pain and suffering is based on several factors, beginning with the type of injury and nature of medical treatment.4
Seriousness of Injuries and Treatment
For instance, the pain and suffering associated with lacerations or bruises will be significantly less than the level of pain caused by a broken bone or a low degree burn, but a disfigurement or paralysis could cause an even greater level of pain. As the seriousness or extensiveness of an injury increase so does the monetary value assigned to the pain and suffering.
The nature of medical treatment also plays a significant role since an injury only needing initial one-time attention such as stitching a cut is going to warrantless pain and suffering compensation than an injury requiring hospitalization, surgery, or rehabilitation.
Other considerations include the type of medication and how long it is prescribed, the length of the recovery process, and the presence of life-altering injuries such as an injured party who is in a comatose state, suffers from paralysis, or disfigurement.5
Mental Anguish and Distress
The second common form of intangible loss is based on a person’s mental anguish or emotional distress caused by being involved in a traumatic event itself, the medical complications of the injury, or by the recovery process in general.
Mental suffering could include fright, terror, depression, apprehension, nervousness, anxiety, worry, humiliation, loss of dignity, embarrassment, grief, or shock.7
7 In some cases, if an injured party’s mental anguish results in post-traumatic stress disorder or another severe status therapists may testify as to the suffering caused by the injury, but in other cases, a plaintiff’s personal testimony will be heavily relied on.
Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages
Regardless of what type of non-economic damages are sought, determining the losses or harms is a subjective process.
The process requires consideration of any loss, distress, or inconvenience that altered an injured party’s lifestyle or quality of life from before the accident to after the injury was sustained.
Non-economic damages are calculated in a very particular case by case manner, but in most instances, the basic process will assign a monetary worth to each type of loss while considering factors such as a party’s age, family circumstance, education, and medical history.
Missouri car accident community and economic costs
There are various studies conducted over the years by both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that explain the economic losses as a result of accidents on United States roadways. The tangible losses are often easier to understand, but it is important to be aware of how they are calculated.
Some of the economic costs are likely associated with the cost of law enforcement personnel who investigate or arrive at accident scenes, medical personnel who treat car accident victims in hospital emergency rooms, insurance companies who pay claims, and employers who are losing productivity because of an employee’s injuries suffered in a car accident.
The most recent data available shows that car accidents in Missouri cost an average of $5.5 billion annually. Fatalities cost the state more than $1.3 billion annually. These numbers are staggering and do little to account for the disruption of lives which families must deal with.
Catastrophic car accidents and the resulting tangible losses
When someone has suffered a loss in a catastrophic car accident, they must deal with not only the pain and suffering which follows the accident, but there are tangible and intangible losses.
Tangible losses include:
- Medical expenses – the costs associated with treating catastrophic injuries are significant. Whether a victim suffers burns, traumatic brain injury, or neck and spinal injuries, victims often face months recovering from their injury. These victims often require specialized medical care, and in many cases, some treatments may not be covered by their existing healthcare policy.
- Lost income – lost income impacts the victim as well as their family. When a car accident victim is a primary breadwinner in the family, the loss of income can be devastating. Bills do not stop just because someone has suffered an injury. They continue to mount up, and a family can face financial ruin.
- Damage to personal property – while this may be the least of the issues a family can face after a catastrophic car accident, the fact is it is a tangible loss. Motor vehicle damage can range from minor to total. A car will not repair itself. It takes money to repair or replace a vehicle. If the family has only one vehicle, there may be a need for a rental car or an immediate replacement, which can cause additional financial hardship.
The longer it takes someone to recover from an injury, the higher the cost of medical bills and the higher the loss of income. Remember, even when accident victims have disability coverage, they are still not collecting 100 percent of their wages. This also does not take into account the loss of benefits that a victim suffers. Retirement accounts may be funded at lower levels, victims are forced to sacrifice sick days, vacation days, and personal days before disability payments are collected.
These damages may be included when a victim survives a catastrophic car accident. However, if they have lost their life, their family may also include these tangible losses in a wrongful death claim. A St. Louis wrongful death lawyer can help surviving family members file these claims.
Missouri traffic fatalities appear to be increasing
While new technology has provided us with better traffic signals, airbags, and safer automobiles, there is still an unacceptable number of fatalities on Missouri roadways. Unfortunately, there is little that modern technology can do to help us with poor decision-making of drivers on our roadways.
One recent year showed an increase of 12 percent in traffic fatalities over the prior year. Unfortunately, many of these fatalities could have been avoided.
The statistics show us:
- Passengers and drivers without seatbelts accounted for 67 percent of fatalities
- 389 deaths were a result of traffic accidents involving speed
- More than 125 pedestrians were killed in accidents
These deaths could have been prevented had drivers exercised better judgment. There are laws in place governing speeds in Missouri and rules pertaining to seat belt usage. These rules are in place to minimize the potential for loss of life on our roadways. When we see this type of surge in fatalities, it should be a cause for concern.
One way to hold a driver accountable for negligent operation of a car, including speeding, is to file a wrongful death lawsuit. These claims can mean a family has the right to hold the responsible party liable for the loss of their loved one. While money cannot bring your loved one back to life, it can help ensure your family does not suffer financially following this type of unthinkable loss. There are tangible losses that may be claimed as well as intangible losses
Wrongful Death Claims in Missouri
Many families are reluctant to file wrongful death claims. Since money will not bring back their loved one, many feel that they should avoid lawsuits. However, the fact is, your family still has to deal with the economic losses you will suffer as a result of the loss of a loved one.
Missouri wrongful death statutes allow family members to seek damages for tangible losses, including the ones a victim would be entitled to if they survived their injuries.
In addition, families may collect compensation for some of the following tangible losses:
- Future lost income and earnings – when your loved one dies in a Missouri car accident, their earnings are lost forever. Your family’s financial future is at stake because you no longer have the ability to benefit from their earnings. Keep in mind, future lost income and earnings is a generic term, but some sub-categories also impact your family.
- Medical coverage – if your loved one was paying for your family’s medical insurance, you will now have to determine how to obtain that coverage with less income. Medical bills can devastate a family, especially if you have a family member with any type of chronic disease.
- Tax changes – while you may think it is insignificant, there are changes to your tax status when a loved one dies due to a car accident. These changes can have a significant impact on your tax filing status.
- Burial and funeral expenses – the average cost of a funeral in Missouri is in excess of $7,000. The average cost of cremation exceeds $6,000. Most families are ill-prepared to deal with these expenses, particularly when death occurs due to an accident.
A negligent driver’s insurance company will fight back when you file a wrongful death claim. This is why having an attorney who serves as an advocate is so important in these cases. While you are mourning the loss of your loved one, your attorney can help you navigate the process of filing a wrongful death claim.
Injury or wrongful death accidents intangible losses
Not all losses are tangible losses. Medical bills or funeral and burial expenses are often fixed costs which, once they are paid, are no longer a concern except for the financial hardship they have created in your family. Whether you are suffering a permanent injury due to a car accident, or you are a loved one of a victim who sustained life-ending injuries in a car accident, there are intangible losses that are more complicated to calculate.
Some of the potential areas for compensation you may seek which would be considered intangible include:
- Lost services – when a loved one is permanently injured or lost after a car accident, there may be tasks they completed prior to the accident. Yard and home maintenance, chores around the house, and driving children to school and sporting events. If your loved one can no longer complete these tasks, it may be necessary to hire someone to do them in their stead. This means an additional cost to you and your family. These additional costs may be part of the non-economic losses you may consider claiming in a settlement demand.
- Comfort, guidance, and companionship – there is no way to fix a dollar amount on this type of intangible loss. Your family is no doubt devastated when you lose a loved one. It is also important to keep in mind these losses can occur when your loved one survives a catastrophic injury. Traumatic brain injuries and other injuries can alter personalities or leave victims unable to provide their own personal care. There are often other problems following serious car accidents which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, which can mean mood disturbances and other personality changes.
- Loss of a loved one – there is not enough money on the planet which can ever take the place of a loved one. That is a fact. A loss that you know could have been prevented leaves you dealing with a broad range of emotions. Family members may deal with anger, grief, guilt, and confusion. Typically, if your attorney recommends this type of non-economic loss in a demand for settlement, it is considered punitive damage.
Plaintiffs can receive punitive damages even from an incarcerated party. In Missouri, you can receive these damages through a tort victims’ compensation fund.
Claims for pain and suffering following a car accident
Whether a victim lost their life in a car accident or survived the accident with serious injury, the claim for pain and suffering is typically included in a settlement demand.
In the case where a victim survived for only a brief period of time, the pain and suffering is calculated based on numerous factors, including:
- Extent of injuries – injuries from car accidents vary. When a victim survives an accident, they could suffer pain for weeks, months, or even for the rest of their natural lives following a car accident. Speaking with medical experts will allow your attorney to determine what is a reasonable demand for pain and suffering.
- Length of survival following accident – when a victim loses their life following a car accident, families often wonder if pain and suffering can be included in their claim. The fact is, you can still claim pain and suffering for the length of time your loved one suffered following the accident, up through their death. Victims can suffer serious pain, and that can cause mental anguish.
- Knowledge of injuries – a victim who was in a coma following an accident may not have any conscious knowledge of the pain they have suffered due to their injuries. However, after an injury, someone who lived for a week or more may lapse in and out of consciousness. This state can also mean the victim has an active knowledge there is nothing that can be done to save their lives. Talk to your attorney more about pain and suffering compensation.
- Victim’s age – a young child’s pain and suffering, as well as their family being forced to watch on helplessly while a child suffers, is immeasurable. Fortunately, children tend to be more resilient than those of us who are older. However, when a personal injury case goes to trial, a jury is likely to treat a child’s suffering more seriously than an adult’s.
Discuss pain and suffering damages with an attorney because these claims are confusing at best. An attorney who has experience handling car accident claims is aware of how to calculate these losses, whether it is because of your injuries or because you lost a loved one. Pain and suffering calculations are complicated. No insurance company or insurance adjuster will explain these to you, which is why car accident victims and their families should always contact a skilled accident injury attorney following an accident when an injury occurred or when you lost a loved one.
Contact an Experienced St. Louis Personal Injury Attorney
If you have suffered harm, including tangible or intangible damage, it is important to discuss the circumstances of your injury with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help to protect your legal rights and interests.
Our team understands how pain and suffering damages are calculated and can help you today. To contact an experienced attorney for a free consultation, call The Bruning Law Firm at 314-735-8100.
I represent individuals in Missouri and Illinois in all types of personal injury cases. In my short time here I have obtained a judgment for $2.5 million and settled a large class action lawsuit for a confidential amount.
I love the city of St. Louis and support it and give back whenever I can. Recently I was appointed by Mayor Francis Slay to serve on the Advisory Board for the Gateway Mall.
I am married to my lovely wife Lauren and we have two beautiful daughters, Mia and Bridget.