Following an accident in Georgia, a personal injury claim can compensate victims for their losses and suffering- both measurable and unmeasurable. Along with medical bills, future care expenses, and lost wages (measurable, economic damages), accident victims can obtain an additional type of damage: pain and suffering (non economic damages). Pain and suffering damages are standard in personal injury claims because accident victims suffer very real, significant physical pain, mental anguish, and emotional suffering.
Unfortunately, many insurance companies try to minimize or deny pain and suffering damages altogether. Even if an insurance company accepts that pain and suffering occurred, they may use a number of strategies to limit the amount they have to pay. Factors such as the severity of the accident, the types of injuries suffered, and state law can all affect the value of pain and suffering damages in a personal injury claim.
What Is Pain And Suffering?
Pain and suffering is an umbrella term that covers the far-reaching physical discomfort and emotional effects you experience as a result of an accident, along with the actual harm you experienced (like disability and visible scars). After a truck accident, car accident, or slip and fall accident caused by negligence or recklessness, non economic damages compensate an accident victim for things like:
- Chronic pain
- Damage to reputation
- Mental pain and Depression
- Insomnia/sleep disorders
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Migraine headaches
- Pervasive fear and phobias resulting from the event
- Nerve damage
When accidents are fatal, surviving family members may recover damages for the decedent's pain and suffering from the accident leading up to their death. Non economic damage for wrongful death may be available for family members' loss of love, care, and companionship.
Most Common Pain and Suffering Damages
Because pain and suffering damages are NOT measurable, amounts are either agreed to by both parties in a settlement or awarded by a judge or jury. There are two common methods for calculating pain and suffering damages:
- The Multiplier Method: The most often used method, this approach involves adding up all the economic damages (for medical care and lost earnings) and then multiplying them by a number (the multiplier). The multiplier number is determined based on all of the factors related to your cases, which are discussed below, and is usually between 1.5 and 5.
- The Per Diem Method: Individuals are paid a "daily rate" for the pain they experienced in their accident, multiplied by the number of days they had to live with the mental or physical pain. This can be problematic with a catastrophic injury resulting in permanent disability when maximum medical improvement is not a full recovery.
Both of these methods have their pros and cons, but the vast majority of personal injury claims use the multiplier method. It's more common because it results in a higher damage award than the per diem method, which can be more difficult to justify to a jury. Pain and suffering damages are essentially negotiable, as they are determined on a case-by-case basis. Accident victims may be entitled to far more damages than are initially offered by an insurance company. It is always advisable to speak with a personal injury lawyer before accepting any settlement following an accident.
Top 9 Factors That Affect Your Injury Settlement
Below are the top 9 factors that affect the amount of damages you will be awarded for pain and suffering:
1. The Severity of Your Injury
The severity of your injury is one of the most important factors that will affect your personal injury settlement. The more severe your injuries, the more likely it is that you will incur high medical bills, miss time from work, and experience pain and suffering. As a result, insurance companies typically offer higher settlements for more serious injuries. If you have suffered a catastrophic injury that has resulted in permanent disability or disfigurement, you may be entitled to an even larger settlement. Reports from your doctors and specialists can describe and explain how serious your injuries are.
2. The Amount of Medical Treatment You've Received
Getting medical treatment following any accident is critical - for your own well-being and your personal injury claim. When you've been injured in an accident, the amount of medical treatment you've received can have a big impact on your settlement. If you've only seen your doctor for a few office visits, your settlement is likely to be lower than if you've had to stay in the hospital for weeks or even months.
In addition, if you required surgery or other intensive treatment, your settlement will probably be higher than if you only needed simple medical care. Your hospital or urgent care visit establishes a documented record of your injury. Following your health care provider's recommendations is also important. Your lawyer will carefully review your medical records to determine the total amount of treatment you received and how it will affect your personal injury settlement.
3. How The Injury Has Affected Your Quality of Life
The severity of your injuries is the primary factor that will affect the amount of your settlement. More specifically, insurance companies will look at how the injuries have affected your quality of life, which includes your health, comfort, happiness, as well as your ability to work. If you've suffered a debilitating injury that has left you unable to work or enjoy your hobbies, you can expect to receive a much higher settlement than someone who sustained a minor injury with little impact on their daily life.
In addition to the severity of your injuries, the insurance company will also consider your age, health pre-injury, and expected future medical costs when determining the value of your claim. By understanding how insurance companies calculate settlements, you can have realistic expectations for the outcome of your case.
4. Whether You Were Partially or Fully At Fault For The Accident
One of the most important factors that will affect your injury settlement is whether you were partially or fully at fault for the accident. If you were found to be even just slightly at fault, it could reduce the amount of your settlement by a significant amount. Insurance companies will often use any percentage of fault against you in order to reduce how much they have to pay out, so it's important to try and prove that you were not at fault if possible.
Comparative negligence is the system in which fault and/or negligence is determined in an accident. If you were in an accident caused by another party, their defense to your civil claim may be that your actions also contributed (speeding is a common example). If you are partially at fault for an accident, you can still recover compensation, under Georgia's doctrine of comparative negligence - found in Official Code of Georgia Annotated Title 51, Chapter 11, Section 7. However, if you were 50% or more negligent, you are barred from recovering.
5. The Insurance Company's Liability Limits
The amount of your settlement will be determined by a number of factors, chief among them is the insurance company's liability limits, especially when injuries are serious. If the responsible party has a low liability limit, their insurance company may only be willing to pay out a small amount, regardless of the severity of your injuries. Conversely, if the responsible party has a high liability limit, their insurance company may be more generous in their settlement offer.
The amount of compensation available is always a major factor, especially when injuries are serious. Georgia requires drivers to have at minimum, bodily injury coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident. This minimum amount is low, and if you suffer major injuries or are permanently disabled, your personal injury claim may be restricted to the at-fault driver's liability limits. Low state minimums are why we always recommend Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance.
6. Pre-Existing Injuries
One of the first things that your attorney will look at when evaluating your case is whether you have any pre-existing injuries. This is important because it can affect both how much your injuries are worth and how long it will take you to recover. If you have a history of back problems, for example, then the insurance company may argue that your current injuries are not as severe as you claim.
Similarly, if you have a pre-existing condition that has left you with chronic pain, the insurance company may try to lowball your settlement offer. As a result, it is important to be upfront about any pre-existing conditions when you first meet with your attorney. Personal injury law allows victims to receive compensation for pre-existing conditions if the accident worsened them. Your lawyer can help establish this with your medical records.
7. Damages To Property
If you were in a car accident and sustained damages to your vehicle, these will be factored into your injury settlement. The same goes for any other property that was damaged as a result of the accident. For example, if you had to replace your glasses or your laptop was destroyed, these expenses would be covered by the at-fault driver's insurance company.
Photographs and videos of property damage can be instrumental in showing damages. Although property damage is compensated separately, photos of a damaged vehicle, cellphone, or other property will allow insurance adjusters and other experts to actually see what you experienced.
8. Loss Of Income and Earning Capacity
Another important factor affecting your settlement is how much income you've lost as a result of your injury. This includes not only your lost wages but also any future earnings you may have been able to achieve if not for the accident. If your injury prevents you from ever returning to work, this factor will have a major impact on the value of your claim. While you are compensated separately for lost earnings and loss of earning capacity, these are considerations in pain and suffering damages.
9. The Length Of Your Recovery
The amount of time it takes you to recover from your injuries is another key factor that will affect your settlement. If you have a long recovery, you will likely incur more medical expenses and miss more time from work, which will increase the value of your claim. On the other hand, if you make a quick and full recovery, the value of your claim will be lower. Insurance companies will also consider the types of injuries you have sustained.
For example, broken bones usually heal within a few months, whereas soft tissue injuries can take much longer to heal. As a result, claims involving more serious injuries are typically worth more than those involving less serious injuries. Courts generally recognize that long recovery times affect your ability to live your life. Longer recovery times generally increase the total amount of emotional pain and suffering that will be awarded.
How The Graham Firm Can Help With A Pain and Suffering Claim
If you have questions about pain and suffering damages or would like an assessment of your potential personal injury case, The Graham Firm is here to provide answers, information, and resources. Our personal injury law firm can help you get the compensation you deserve for your pain and suffering. We have the experience and resources to take on even the most complex cases, and we're always here to answer any questions you may have. You may be entitled to damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering, and more. Contact us today for a free consultation to find out how we can help you get started on your case. Our mission is to provide compassionate representation and secure full compensation for our clients.