Estimating damages for pain and suffering is one of the most difficult parts of filing a claim with an insurance company. In Washington, the pure comparative fault rule stands, so if you are partially at fault for a car accident — even minimally — that is taken into consideration and deducted from the total damages you are awarded. For some Washington personal injury claims you can expect two types of damages: general damages and special damages. It is simple to differentiate the two by economic factors.
General vs. Special Damages
In a car accident insurance claim, special damages are economic losses endured by the victim. These can be loss of earnings, property damage, and medical costs. These losses are taken into consideration to estimate general damages, which are tricky to calculate.
General damages are noneconomic losses like pain and suffering, or emotional distress. There is no go-to formula universally used by lawyers and insurers to estimate this value in a personal injury claim; however, there is one common method a majority of insurers use to put a number on these unquantifiable losses.
Since pain and suffering can’t truly be “proved,” it makes calculating these damages much more difficult. Still, there are certain things about your injuries that are considered. For example, if you suffered any broken bones due to the car accident, most people are aware that a broken bone is a painful injury that sometimes requires a long period of recovery after extensive medical treatment. For an insurer, proof of this type of injury (through medical records, photographs of your injuries, medical bills, and records of prescription medications) is reason to believe you deserve a higher level of compensation for pain and suffering.
But what about injuries that are difficult to prove? Car accidents frequently spark soft tissue injuries in your muscles, ligaments and tendons. These can be extremely painful but difficult to prove just how much pain you are in. In these cases, it’s important to keep records of what kinds of prescription painkillers you are on, what doctors you went to, and keep all your bills. The doctor who examines your injuries will note your complaints and his observations in your medical records. All these things are looked at by the insurance adjuster handling your claim.
Insurance companies follow a general pattern of assumptions to arrive at a figure for general damages.
First, it is assumed that if you do not seek medical care after a car accident, you are not in pain. This sounds reasonable and it is the main reason why you should always go to a doctor after a car accident. You may not feel any symptoms until weeks or months following the accident, in which case it is difficult to attribute them to the accident itself.
Second, insurers follow the logic that if the more treatment you receive, the more pain and suffering you endure. This also applies to recovery time. The longer the recovery time, the more pain and suffering it is assumed you endure.
The most common method used among adjusters to come up with a concrete figure for general damages is the multiplier method. This takes your total special damages (all calculable losses) and multiplies it by the “multiplier” or level of pain and suffering on a scale from 1.5-5, with 5 being the highest. The tough part about this process is determining what your multiplier should be. The number from 1.5 to 5 depends on the seriousness of your injury, whether you expect to recover quickly and completely, the impact the injury has on your daily life, and whether the other party was clearly and completely at fault for the injury you’ve suffered.
In these fragile situations, you have the right to legal representation. Attorney Daniel J. Murphy, Jr. is a Tacoma personal injury lawyer who can help you win the damages you deserve. Call (253) 312-6122 for a free legal consultation.