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Calculating Pain and Suffering in Car Accidents

Neck InjuryUnfortunately, many auto accidents result in permanent injuries that may require years of therapy, expensive treatments, and painful surgeries. When another driver was at fault for an accident, victims are often able to recover for the cost of medical bills and long-term health care. While those costs are relatively simple to quantify, it is much more difficult to put a monetary value on the pain and suffering that a victim has endured as a result of the accident.

Pain and Suffering

In California, victims injured in car crashes have the option of pursuing a personal injury claim to recover damages within a certain period of time, known as the statute of limitations. As part of this recovery, victims can collect compensation for pain and suffering, although it is often difficult to prove. For instance, while physicians may be able to observe symptoms like joint tenderness and other pain indicators, it is impossible for him or her to actually see the pain a victim is experiencing. Even if the presence of pain is undeniable, as in the case of a serious burn, it is still difficult to determine the severity of the pain because each person has a different pain threshold.

General Damages

There are two types of pain and suffering that a victim may experience:

  • Physical pain and suffering; and
  • Mental distress.

Although there is no set standard for ascertaining whether a victim is experiencing pain or how severe it actually is, juries can and do come to conclusions on the amount of damages owed for pain and suffering. It is helpful if a particular injury is of a common type, such as a broken bone, because there is a presumption that the injury will be painful. However, if an injury is less well known, such as soft tissue damage, it is much more difficult to judge its severity. Damage to muscles, ligaments, and tendons do not show up on x-rays and often leave no visible marks on the body. But if pain and suffering can be proved, even these types of injuries can result in victims obtaining compensation for the harm they suffered.

Insurance Companies

One of the first things a person should do when involved in an accident is contact his or her insurance provider, who also analyzes a victim’s pain and suffering. One of the first indicators insurers use to assess coverage is whether a victim went to the doctor after the accident. It is assumed that if a victim did not go to a hospital, it is unlikely that he or she is in pain. Insurance companies also usually assume that injuries requiring a greater amount of medical treatment are more painful. Longer recovery times and time taken off from work are also indicators of the amount of pain and suffering a victim may have experienced.


To determine the value of a victim’s pain and suffering, insurance companies review all supporting documentation, including:

  • Medical records;
  • Photographs of the injuries;
  • Prescription records;
  • Receipts for over-the-counter medicines;
  • Medical bills; and
  • Documentation revealing time off from work.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, you may have a basis for a personal injury claim. Please contact the skilled San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for a free consultation.

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