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How the Legal Definition of “Pain and Suffering” Affects Compensation Following an Auto Accident

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In the aftermath of a vehicle accident, expenses can pile up quickly. Injured parties are entitled to seek compensation from anyone determined responsible for the accident, such as a legally negligent driver. 

Determining the specific dollar amount awarded to a wronged party is a complex process that depends on many factors, including the concept of “pain and suffering.” Here is a closer look at how the concept is defined and its role following an auto accident. 

“Pain and Suffering” Explained

The legal concept of pain and suffering is divided into two subcategories:

  • Physical Pain and Suffering – These are bodily injuries directly or indirectly caused by the accident, including long-term issues. 
  • Mental Anguish – Anxiety, PTSD, and other post-accident conditions can affect a person’s ability to focus, earn a living, and more. 

Determining pain levels is complicated because, in many ways, pain is subjective. An injury that might cause one individual to reach for an over-the-counter pain reliever might send another person rushing to the emergency room. 

Certain types of injuries are more universally recognized as painful than others. For example, plaintiffs and defendants typically have an easier time agreeing on the severity of visible injuries, such as broken bones and cuts. However, the less visible an injury, the more difficult agreement on its severity often becomes. Soft tissue damage to muscles, ligaments, and tendons does not always show up on x-rays, even though the pain can be debilitating. 

How Pain and Suffering Translates to a Dollar Amount

When determining an injured party’s level of pain and suffering, insurance companies consider many factors, but the most important is when and how often the individual sought medical attention. Essentially, if the injured party failed to begin care soon after the accident, insurance companies will assume the person did not experience significant pain or impairment. 

Additionally, pain levels are further determined by two key metrics:

  • The amount of medical treatment received
  • The length of recovery time

The insurance company will evaluate your medical records and supporting documentation during the claim evaluation process, including photos of your injuries, prescription records, medical bills, and any additional notes. Aside from official documentation, injured parties can also benefit by recording their experiences in a journal.  

How Plaintiffs Can Increase Compensation Received

“Even if you do not have any visible injuries, it is important to consult with a doctor right away if you are in a car accident,” says car accident attorney Joe Kopfler. “Many injuries, especially soft tissue injuries, slowly develop weeks or even months after the accident occurs. If a medical professional can document the development of these problems, they become harder for insurance companies and courts to dismiss.” 

Vehicle accidents can result in serious injuries, but their extent is not always immediately apparent. When seeking a settlement for injuries and damages, the injured party will need a verifiable history of physical pain and mental anguish. 


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