If someone injured you in an accident, you may already know that you can seek compensation for the expenses that your injury caused, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and-in some types of accidents-property damage that you also sustained in the accident. But did you know you can also seek compensation for the impacts that your injury has caused on your quality of life? Often referred to as pain and suffering, this compensation is an important part of your personal injury claim.
The experienced personal injury attorneys at The Levin Firm can answer your legal questions and help you understand the process of seeking compensation for your injuries through a free consultation.
About Non-Economic Damages
In personal injury claims, damages refers to compensation that the claimant receives from the at-fault party to pay for the harm they suffered in the accident.
The two types of compensatory damages awarded in successful personal injury claims are:
- Economic damages, which is compensation for the financial costs of the injury.
- Non-economic damages, which compensates for the psychological costs of the injury.
Often, non-economic damages are called “pain and suffering," and they compensate the injured party for the impacts of the injury that don’t come with a price tag or a bill.
Types of Pain and Suffering that You Can Obtain Compensation For
There are several ways that an injury can negatively impact your quality of life. Here is a look at some types of pain and suffering that plaintiffs commonly seek in personal injury claims.
#1. Physical Pain and Suffering
Nearly all parts of the body contain nerves. Nerves act as a lookout for the brain. An injured body part sends a message through the nerves to the spinal cord and the brain. The brain responds with the unpleasant sensation of pain. Unfortunately, the treatments involved in medically caring for an injury can also result in pain. Numerous studies indicate that around one-quarter of all individuals who have incurred physical trauma-such as in a car accident, slip-and-fall, or other accident-still have moderate to severe pain 12 months after the trauma. Up to one in three still have significant pain three years later.
Being in physical pain for weeks, months, or even years can have a tremendous impact on the sufferer’s quality of life, sometimes leading to additional health concerns such as insomnia, anxiety, or depression that can hinder recovery.
#2. Emotional Distress
When an individual experiences a particularly traumatic or depressing situation, such as being severely injured in an accident that occurred because of someone else’s carelessness or recklessness, they are at risk of developing psychological disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD occurs when the normal range of negative emotions that the person experiences because of the trauma do not resolve over time or without intervention. Symptoms of PTSD generally begin within the first three months following the onset of the injury, although some people experience new symptoms of the disorder years later.
The symptoms of PTSD include:
- Flashbacks of the traumatic event;
- Frightening thoughts about the trauma or general feelings of not being safe;
- Avoiding people or things that remind the sufferer of the traumatic event;
- Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the event;
- Being easily startled, or experiencing lingering feelings of being on edge;
- Difficulty remembering key features of the event;
- Negative thoughts about one’s self;
- Feelings of guilt or blame;
- Angry outbursts;
- Insomnia; and
- Loss of interest in formerly enjoyed activities.
PTSD is only one type of emotional distress a person can suffer after being injured in an accident. Others include anxiety over the expenses of the injury and the inability to work, or depression over one’s changed body image following the injury.
#3. Loss of the Enjoyment of Life
Life is made up of activities and experiences that a person enjoys. Having a serious injury can prevent one from participating in a cherished activity or event. For example, if an individual had a hobby of competitive dancing but suffered a severe injury that prevented them from ever participating in this hobby again, this would be considered a loss of the enjoyment of life.
#4. Physical Impairment
Many physical injuries not only cause lingering pain but permanent disabilities that can prevent the sufferer from completing everyday personal tasks independently. While hiring someone to provide these services is an economic expense, the suffering that results from the loss of one’s independence also deserves compensation.
Disfigurement refers to a physical injury or condition that results in a permanent change to a person’s appearance. Fractures to facial bones, severe burns, or scars can disfigure people. A physical appearance that differs from what society considers normal can have extreme impacts not only on the sufferer’s self-esteem or body image but also on how others perceive and treat them. This can result in depression, anxiety, and intrusive questions or staring from strangers.
#6. Loss of Society and Companionship (Consortium)
Loss of consortium is a type of pain and suffering compensation that one can receive on behalf of a spouse or partner for the loss of physical intimacy or companionship that often accompanies serious injuries.
How to Calculate Non-Economic Damages
For many, the quality-of-life impacts of the injury are even more difficult to deal with than the unexpected out-of-pocket expenses associated with it. However, one of the questions we most often hear about non-economic damages is how anyone can put a price tag on pain and suffering. Speak with your attorney to get an estimate of how much you can ask for in compensation for non-economic damages in your specific case.
Factors that Impact the Amount of Pain and Suffering Compensation You Can Receive
The biggest factor that impacts the amount of pain and suffering compensation you can receive is the severity of the injury you suffered. This is because more severe injuries generally increase both financial and psychological costs. Certain injuries, including traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, commonly result in the sufferer losing the ability to earn an income or live independently. These injuries are often referred to as “catastrophic injuries” and often result in an overall higher level of compensation to account for the permanent nature of the injury.
Other factors that impact the amount of pain and suffering compensation you can receive include:
- The amount of insurance the at-fault party can compensate you with. Insurance policies pay most personal injury settlements or awards. An uninsured or underinsured at-fault party may limit the non-economic damages you can ultimately recover. However, your attorney will look for additional sources of liability that-if available-may allow you to access other insurance resources to compensate you.
- How much the injury changed your life. If you were active in highly physical hobbies or had a job that required a particular set of physical skills before the accident, and after the accident, you can no longer participate in the activity you enjoyed or work the job that you invested education and training into, these factors may come into play when calculating the value of your claim.
- Your age and career status at the time of your injury. If you were injured while in a successful career, you may collect more non-economic damages than a young person with no work experience or a retired person who no longer earns an income. The income you earned at the time of the accident will factor heavily in calculating both your economic and non-economic damages.
- Non-economic damage caps. Some states place caps on the amount of non-economic damages an individual can seek through a personal injury lawsuit. For example, in Pennsylvania, claimants cannot seek more than $250,000 in pain and suffering damages from the Commonwealth or more than $500,000 in claims against local governments. Florida recently removed their caps on non-economic damages, except in medical malpractice cases, where claimants may only collect $500,000.
Things an Attorney Can Do to Help You Obtain Compensation for Pain and Suffering
An experienced personal injury attorney can assist you in obtaining the maximum amount of pain and suffering compensation available to you.
They can do this by:
- Identifying the damages that you can seek in your claim and helping you understand how much you deserve.
- Gathering the needed documentation to prove your non-economic losses, such as statements from family, friends, or employers; documentation from therapists or others who are involved in addressing your mental health needs after the injury; expert testimony from medical professionals and others about the psychological impacts commonly experienced by individuals who have suffered the type of injury, and more.
- Properly valuing your claim to account for your present and future psychological impacts.
- Handling communications with the at-fault party’s insurance adjuster, not only to negotiate a settlement on your behalf but also to prevent you from dealing with the common tactics that insurance companies use to diminish the value of pain and suffering claims. These tactics include telling the injured party that they cannot recover compensation for pain and suffering, convincing them to accept a settlement that will not even cover the expenses of the accident let alone the impacts, or asking the injured party to authorize the release of their medical records, which the insurance company can then use to claim that the injuries were pre-existing.
Let a Car Accident Law Firm Help You With Your Claim
An accident can affect every part of your life, from your ability to earn an income and complete personal tasks independently to how you perceive yourself and whether you can enjoy the activities that give your life meaning. Non-economic damages are an important part of the compensation you need to move forward after your injury. Unfortunately, insurance companies often dispute this compensation.
An experienced legal team can justify your emotional distress, pain, and suffering so you obtain the compensation you deserve. Explore your legal options by calling a car accident lawyer near you.