Pennsylvania residents and visitors enjoy the Keystone State’s historic charm and scenic roadways. However, traveling Pennsylvania’s highways and byways also comes with the risk of car accidents. If you were injured by someone else’s negligence, you may have the right to recover compensation from the party at fault for, among other things, your pain and suffering.
Types of Damages
As a general matter, when someone else’s careless or reckless actions cause you harm, that person has a legal liability to you for two broad categories of damages: economic damages and noneconomic damages. And there’s a lot of both. According to PennDOT, car crashes injure 214 people every day on our roads, and 1,103 fatal car crashes happened in Pennsylvania in one recent year. Philadelphia County witnessed the most reported traffic crashes and traffic-related fatalities of any county in the Commonwealth.
That said, here’s how they’re defined.
People seeking compensation for losses after a car crash think first of getting reimbursed for the expenses the crash inflicted. Car accidents can have an enormous impact on a victim’s finances. The purpose of economic damages is to repay an accident victim for that financial harm. They cover out-of-pocket expenditures for medical care, such as hospital stays, rehabilitation, medical transportation, or even wheelchairs and wheelchair ramps.
They also reimburse victims for wages the victim missed-out on earning while recovering from the injuries. Calculating economic damages involves tallying up all of the money the victim has spent or will need to spend in the future as a result of the accident.
Noneconomic damages pay accident victims for everything else bad that happened because of a car accident. Lawyers sometimes refer to them as intangible damages; costs that do not come with a price tag attached, but which our legal system can only remedy by assigning a dollar-value to anyway. An accident victim’s pain and suffering is one of these types of costs.
What Does Pain and Suffering Mean?
Pain and suffering, as the term suggests, encompasses a wide variety of trauma caused by a car accident injury. Physical pain, sometimes debilitating, limits an accident victim’s mobility and makes simple and essential life activities excruciating. Physical pain keeps victims out of work, leading to financial struggles. It keeps them off of their feet, leading to health complications from lack of exercise. It digs its way into every corner of a person’s existence.
Along with physical pain comes emotional suffering. Physical pain itself inflicts especially torturous forms of anxiety and depression. However, even when physical pain subsides, injuries can cause persistent emotional turmoil. An injury that leaves a car accident victim immobilized in a wheelchair, for example, inflicts psychological difficulty in preventing the victim from taking part in activities that used to make life meaningful. An injury that causes disfigurement leads to emotional pain related to a victim’s appearance and how disfigurement affects social interaction.
These physical and emotional struggles do not come with price tags attached, but they represent real and (sometimes) crushing harm that any human can understand. Our legal system cannot take away that kind of trauma, so it uses financial compensation as a means of giving accident victims the resources they need to recover physically and move forward with their lives.
Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages
The value of a car accident injury claim depends on many complex factors. Since pain and suffering is a noneconomic injury, lawyers, jurors, and insurance adjusters must use measures other than price tags to determine how much it is worth. Though there is no fixed formula for calculating pain and suffering damages, as a general matter they increase with the severity and permanence of an injury.
Thus, the amount of money a car accident victim might receive in pain and suffering damages will take into account:
- The nature and extent of the injuries,
- Whether the individual suffered any long term effects/symptoms (and for how long),
- How the injuries and symptoms affected the individual, and
- Whether the injuries have resulted, or likely will result in an untimely death.
Pain and suffering damages can seem particularly hard to calculate by relying on past outcomes, because two individuals might suffer the same injury, yet experience different degrees of pain. Instead, the calculation relies upon a reasonable assessment of the negative impacts of a particular injury on a particular accident victim.
To help them in that analysis, lawyers often seek to make objective comparisons of the client’s daily activities before and after the injuries. For instance, is a client who formerly worked a full-time job now unable to manage more than an hour-or-two per day? Is a client who used to play sports now unable to walk, much less run? Does a client who used to take joy in spending time with her grandchildren now not recognize them because of her injuries?
This sort of before-and-after comparison helps to appreciate just how seriously an injury has damaged an accident victim’s life.
Proving Pain and Suffering Damages
Of course, it is one thing to gain an understanding of how a car accident injury has inflicted pain and suffering, and quite another to prove that harm to an insurance adjuster or a jury. Experienced car accident injury lawyers often work closely with their clients to collect evidence that illustrates the degree and severity of pain and suffering.
Of course, an accident victim can testify about the continuing trauma of a car accident. Courts and insurance adjusters, however, often want to hear more than simply say-so when it comes to proving pain and suffering damages. So, lawyers may also rely on objective evidence of these subjective harms, such as:
- Medical records contain a wealth of valuable details, including a diagnosis from a doctor complete with a description of the patient’s physical pain.
- Testimony from a medical expert who has reviewed the client’s medical records and can testify about the degree of pain the client likely feels.
- Testimony from a mental health expert who has, perhaps, treated the client for emotional struggles resulting from the car accident injury.
- Photographic and video evidence depicting the before and after effects of a car accident injury, such as a video of the client playing sports compared to a client confined to a hospital bed.
- Testimony from family members and friends that gives details about the client’s physical and emotional state before and after suffering the injury in the car accident.
- Journals, diaries, and other contemporaneous descriptions of pain and suffering that reflect the client’s in-the-moment (rather than after-the-fact) thoughts about the trauma inflicted by the car accident injury.
All of the forms of evidence above, and others similar to it, serve to evoke an empathetic response on the part of judges, jurors, and insurance adjusters. By helping those parties imagine in their own minds how the client’s injury would feel, the lawyer can argue that the amount of money sought in pain and suffering damages is reasonable under the circumstances.
To make the most of a claim for pain and suffering damages, in other words, accident victims and their families can help by making sure to preserve as much evidence as possible, and by avoiding mistakes that can undermine an otherwise strong claim. Taking some simple steps in the days and weeks after a car accident injury can vastly improve an accident victim’s chances of recovering the maximum pain and suffering damages available.
- Seeking prompt and appropriate medical care to treat both physical and emotional trauma, so that if the need arises, a treating physician or therapist can potentially testify about the victim’s recovery from day-one, forward.
- Trying as hard as possible to recover from pain and suffering, to eliminate any argument that the victim made things worse somehow.
- Keeping a written and/or video journal of the accident victim’s daily struggles.
- Tracking an accident victim’s pain medication needs.
- Staying in touch with family and friends who may contribute an important perspective on the victim’s before-and-after condition.
- Avoiding posts on social media that paint a happier or healthier picture of the victim than is actually the case (or, better yet, just staying off of social media altogether).
- Leaving conversations with insurance adjusters and other representatives of parties with potential legal liability for the accident to an experienced car accident injury lawyer.
By following these simple steps, an accident victim can build a strong record of the nature and extent of the pain and suffering that followed a car crash. When the time comes to prove pain and suffering damages, this evidence gives the victim’s legal team something more than the victim’s say-so to prove those damages and recover maximum compensation for them.
Formulas Sometimes Used for Calculating Damages
It may not come as a surprise to hear that the stakeholders in a car accident injury case—insurance companies, in particular—sometimes resort to simple (or simplistic) formulas to calculate a rough range of pain and suffering damages. Sometimes, these formulas do a reasonable job of reflecting the scope of pain and suffering damages, although in many cases they cannot substitute for the types of evidence described above.
Two common formulas sometimes used to calculate pain and suffering damage include:
- The multiplier method, which involves adding up a victim’s medical bills and lost wages and then multiplying the total by a number, depending on the severity of the injuries. The scale essentially serves as a shorthand for the strength of the evidence described above.
- The per diem method involves establishing a per diem amount of pain and suffering (such as $100) for every day that passes between the time of the accident and the date (if any) that the victim has made a full recovery. Here, the dollar amount of the per diem serves to encapsulate the strength of the pain and suffering evidence.
Experience teaches us that even when using these formulas, evidence and analysis plays a significant role. For example, if an insurance adjuster pulls $100/day out of thin air as the correct amount for a per diem calculation of pain and suffering damages, the victim’s lawyer can insist on a far higher dollar amount if he or she has collected the evidence, and done the analysis, to prove why $100/day is too low.
Pennsylvania Car Accident Law
Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the United States to use a no-fault auto insurance system for car accidents. Under this law, drivers have the option of choosing between no-fault insurance coverage and full tort coverage. Drivers who choose no-fault policies can only recover compensation from their own insurance company if injured in an accident unless they suffer a serious injury. That coverage typically excludes pain and suffering damages.
When a serious injury has occurred, the driver can, however, seek compensation from the at-fault party for damages that include pain and suffering. Drivers who choose the full tort auto insurance option can only seek damages from the at-fault party, but those damages can include pain and suffering.
Also, under Pennsylvania law, personal injury claims against the Commonwealth (such as for a car accident caused by the negligence of a state trooper) are capped at $250,000 per occurrence and $1,000,000 in the aggregate. The law also caps damages against local government agencies (such as for a car accident caused by a road maintenance worker) at $500,000 in the aggregate.
Consult an attorney as soon as possible after a car accident injury. Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations provides that you have just two years to take legal action against at-fault parties for damages.
How Your Attorney Can Help With Your Pain and Suffering Claim
Compensation in a car accident case is intended to ensure that the injured crash victim is made whole, meaning restored to a position that the accident would have been in if the accident had never occurred. It can seem difficult to put a price on the pain and suffering you have endured and will endure in the future, but an experienced lawyer can help.