Every personal injury settlement consists of two parts: your economic damages and your non-economic damages. Economic damages cover the medical bills, expenses, and lost wages which your accident generates.
Non-economic damages compensate you for your pain and suffering. Any injury causes pain, sometimes excruciating or chronic pain. Any pain causes suffering, and often emotional distress. This is agony you wouldn’t have gone through but for the accident, so you deserve to be compensated for it.
Note that many car accidents will not offer a pain and suffering award of any kind unless your injuries are serious, which is the criteria for stepping outside of New York’s “no-fault" system to launch a lawsuit. However, pain and suffering awards are very common in slip and fall accidents, product liability cases, and medical malpractice cases.
In New York, these damages are calculated in one of two ways.
Method #1: Using the Multiplier
The multiplier assigns a rating to your suffering that ranges between 1.5 and 5, where 5 is the highest possible amount of pain, suffering, and life-changing damage, and 1.5 is the lowest.
Your economic damages are then multiplied by this amount, and the resulting figure is your pain and suffering award. For example, if your economic damages were at $100,000, and your multiplier was set at 2, then you’d receive an additional $200,000 pain and suffering award for a total personal injury settlement of $300,000.
There is no chart or guideline that suggests where the multiplier should be set. Instead, this multiplier is often a point of negotiation as your attorney works with the insurance company to come to a fair settlement. Obviously even a difference of 0.5 can make a big difference to your bottom line, so you’ll a savvy negotiator with a lot of experience.
Method #2: Per Diem Rates
Per diem pain and suffering awards are a little less common. You’re assigned a dollar amount for each day you suffer from the injury until you recover. Your daily wages are often used as a benchmark for this amount.
This may be an approach that gets used when you are expected to recover within a certain set period of time, won’t need a great deal of future care, and are expected to have no lifelong physical consequences as a result of your accident or injury. It tends to lead to a smaller pain and suffering award. For example, if you make $40 a day and are down for 9 months, then you’d only see a $10,800 pain and suffering award using this method.
How to Maximize a Pain and Suffering Award
Try to document your day-to-day experience. Were there tasks you couldn’t complete? What was your pain level on each day?
If there are activities you used to take part in that you can no longer take part in then you should gather evidence of your regular participation in these activities prior to your accident, as well as the medical records and physician’s recommendations which show you can no longer participate in them.
Finally, if you have to seek therapy, psychological care, or psychiatric care as a result of your accident you should keep those bills and records as well.
Bring it all to your personal injury attorney, who can use it to best advantage. The earlier you involve a firm like ours, the higher your pain and suffering award is likely to be.