How Are Damages for Pain and Suffering Calculated?
You got into a car accident in Austin. Because of the crash, you’ve suffered a spinal cord injury and a few broken bones. You’re in a lot of pain, have extremely limited mobility in your legs, and have to stay at the hospital for a while so that doctors can monitor your progress. Even after you’re allowed to go home, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to move well on your own. You’ll have to sit out doing the things you used to enjoy – like hiking, boating, and playing with your kids.
The pain and suffering you’re experiencing is very real. Fortunately, it’s also something you can recover compensation for if someone else caused your accident. However, unlike many other damages – such as medical bills or lost wages – pain and suffering can be difficult to calculate. Here’s what you need to know about how these types of awards are calculated in Texas.
What is Pain and Suffering?
Pain and suffering refers to the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma you experience because of an accident and/or your resulting injuries. Examples might include:
- The sadness you experience as a result of not being able to do things you once enjoyed
- The chronic physical pain you experience every day because of your accident-related injury
- Anxiety, depression, or PTSD resulting from your accident, and
- Humiliation or embarrassment.
Pain and suffering is different for everyone. As a result, what damages for pain and suffering is worth can vary significantly from one case to the next. Valuation, many times, depends on whether a case is settled privately with an insurance company or if a jury has the final say.
Insurance Companies in Texas Use a Multiplier to Calculate Pain and Suffering
Insurance is typically the first source of compensation after an accident in Texas. Under the state’s at-fault insurance rules, you can file a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company without asking your insurer for benefits first. So, if someone else caused your car accident, you can immediately begin to seek benefits from their car insurance policy.
There are two types of damages available after a car accident in Texas – economic and non-economic. Economic damages are fairly easy to calculate. They’re the cost of your medical bills or the amount of wages you’ve lost because of your injury. Non-economic damages, including pain and suffering, don’t have a set value. So, there’s some wiggle room when determining how much should be paid for these types of injuries.
Insurers in Texas use a multiplier – somewhere between 1.5 and 5 -to determine what damages for pain and suffering should be worth. The more severe your injury and suffering, the higher the multiplier. The multiplier is applied to the value of the economic award.
Here’s an example: Joan breaks both of her legs and sustains a brain injury in a motorcycle accident just outside of Austin. The injury is so severe that she’ll never be able to ride the bike again and will face a life of limited mobility. She spirals into a deep depression as a result. Given the extent of her injuries and suffering, the insurance company might choose a multiplier of 4. Let’s say her economic damages were calculated to be valued at $200,000. The insurer would multiply that by 4 to calculate her non-economic damages. The total award extended by the insurer would be $200,000 in economic damages and $800,000 in non-economic damages for pain and suffering. Altogether, she’d be offered $1 Million.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to accept what an insurer offers. They’re likely offering you the lowest amount they think they can get away with, not what they think will cover the full extent of your injuries. It’s important to discuss your case with an attorney to make sure that you’re best positioned to get the money you deserve.
Jury Awards and Non-Economic Damages in Texas
Most personal injury cases settle before either party has to set foot in a courtroom. However, there are times when the parties just don’t see eye to eye and can’t reach an agreement. In that case, a personal injury case will proceed to trial. Unless a settlement is reached at some point during the process, the value of any damages awarded will be up to the jury.
When you file a lawsuit, you request a specific amount of compensation from the opposing party. At trial, your attorney will have to persuade a jury to agree to award you that amount of money. Keep in mind that there’s a burden of proof in all legal matters. In civil cases, this burden rests with the plaintiff. So, it’s up to the person who got hurt – or more specifically, their lawyer – to convince a jury to side with them. In Texas, a jury has to be persuaded based on “clear and convincing” evidence.
Clear and convincing is a higher standard than a preponderance of the evidence, but lower than beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to award a plaintiff compensation – including amounts requested for pain and suffering – a jury must be persuaded that “that the evidence is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.”