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There are many forms that damages from pain and suffering can take, and it can be very personal. The big question that many individuals have is how much these damages are worth.
The cost will vary greatly from person to person and is sometimes determined by how the accident injuries will affect the person in the long-term.
Types of Suffering
Most people are aware of physical bodily injuries that can result from a car accident, such as whiplash, back pain, headaches, bruises, and broken bones. These damages are usually covered by the car insurance policy of the individual who caused the accident, and are fairly easy to figure out. Damages related to pain and suffering are a bit more complicated.
There are different ways that pain and suffering above and beyond bodily injury can show up. The suffering is usually related to some type of mental element that is connected to the actual pain. This can include anxiety that affects many aspects of your life, shock that comes on post accident, embarrassment, worry about finances and future security, grief, depression, disfigurement, fear of the unknown, and a decrease in life enjoyment.
Although it may seem that these symptoms are temporary or “only in your head,” they can actually be very debilitating. They can affect someone’s life in a number of ways, including socially, financially, and mentally.
Payout of Damages
When one seeks damages from pain and suffering, how it is paid is usually different from the other damages caused by an accident. If you have structural damage to your vehicle, the insurance company will often pay the auto repair shop directly. The same is true for medical bills that you accrue.
With pain and suffering damages, payment from the insurance company is usually paid directly to you. This means that once an amount is decided and agreed upon, you will be cut a check for the amount that was determined.
This money can be used at your discretion to cover what needs to be paid, whether it is something immediate or ongoing in the future. Once the money is paid and settled, you are unable to go back and ask for more in the future, so it is important to calculate the proper amount the first time.
Calculating Pain and Suffering Damages
Actual damages caused by an accident are fairly easy to compute. These include damage to the vehicles involved as well as medical bills that resulted from care due to the accident. Adjusters can easily figure out how much it will cost to fix your car, and doctors have a pretty good idea of what it will take for you to get better.
The damages of pain and suffering, also known as punitive damages, are more difficult to figure out, as practical methods of calculation are not very helpful. There are a number of ways that the cost of damages caused by pain and suffering can be figured out.
If you hire a lawyer, they may have their own way of computing the value. This may be using the total of medical bills and multiplying that by a certain amount, like three times. This is usually not very accurate, however.
Although two individual’s medical bills may be the same, the impact on their lives and salaries may differ greatly.
You will need to take into account any lost wages that resulted and will result from the accident. It may be temporary, such as missing a couple of days or weeks due to injuries, or it may be more long term if you have permanent disabilities. If either of these are the case, you can calculate the damages by computing your loss of salary or hourly rate and multiply it times the amount of work you missed.
When calculating the amount of damages, include any counseling that you may be getting because of the accident, day care fees that are above and beyond normal, money to cover the time and help you have received from others, and any other thing you can think of that relates to the accident.
The legal department at Northwestern University reviews some of the past and current ways to compute pain and suffering damages and has offered an alternative method as well.
Affects of Pain and Suffering Damages
If you are hurt in an accident, there are a number of ways you may be affected. You may not be able to work for a certain amount of time, you may get a demotion because you can no longer perform the same tasks as before the accident, or you may lose your job completely.
If you work out of the home, injuries caused by an accident may affect your ability to take care of your kids and you may need to put them in day care or hire a nanny. Trouble performing house and yard work will necessitate additional help as well.
Even things such as driving and enjoying life in general can be affected by an accident. You may have gotten scars from injuries that are permanent and will affect you mentally and emotionally. These types of damages are harder to figure long-term worth.
Limits of Pain and Suffering Damages
With bodily and property damage, each policyholder has a maximum limit in regards to payout. This refers to the maximum amount that the insurance company will pay for the accident. In regards to personal injury and pain and suffering damages, it is different.
Federally there is no limit on the amount of damages you can ask for and receive.
It is actually the jurisdiction of each state to determine what, if any, limits to personal injury payout there are. Many of the states have chosen not to set a limit, while some others have placed a cap on damages you can receive from pain and suffering.
Hiring an Attorney
There are a couple of ways you can seek damages for pain and suffering. One is to hire an attorney. A lawyer who has experience in personal injury will help you build your case and help you get as much money as possible. An attorney also costs money and can string out the settlement process so it may take awhile before you actually receive any money.
Legal help should be made available to anyone who needs it, regardless of how much money they make. If you are low income and need a lawyer to help fight for pain and suffering damages but can’t afford one, contact the Legal Services Corporation. LSC has offices all across the country and can refer you to an office in your area.
Dealing Directly with the Insurance Company
If you choose not to hire a lawyer, you can still ask for damages from the insurance company. Keep in mind that insurance companies are trying to save as much money as possible so they will want to settle low and will more than likely fight your settlement request.
In order to get a fair settlement, be ready to negotiate.
You should never accept the first offer from the insurance company. Provide as much documentation as possible, including every small bill you have paid in relation to the accident, as this will help your case for a higher settlement.
If you feel that the insurance company is not being fair and is not working with you, there are a number of paths you can take. According to the Insurance Information Institute’s claim advice, it is best to try to speak with your agent first and let him or her know that you are unhappy. You may be given a number for the complaint department of the company, and you should also write a letter supporting your case.
If you are still not getting anywhere, you may choose to get a hold of your state’s insurance department. They can often help you deal with an insurance company that is not playing fair. To find the department in your state contact the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
An arbitrator may also be a resource for you, as it is an independent party that reviews your case. The American Arbitration Association can help refer you to an arbitrator to help with your case, or your insurance company may be able to make a suggestion as well.
Finally, the institute recommends hiring an attorney as a last option. Most cases will not get to that point, but it is an option if it becomes necessary and you feel that you are not receiving the settlement that you deserve.
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