If the driver who caused the wreck has insurance, their insurance company is responsible for paying you for all of these damages resulting from the auto accident. While it is easy to document to the insurance company the total amount of your medical bills, pharmacy bills, wages you lost from having to be away from work, and other out-of-pocket expenses by simply sending them the bills and receipts, how do you document your pain and suffering to the insurance company or jury?
How do you know how much your pain and suffering is worth? And what exactly are pain and suffering damages anyway? Let’s walk through those questions to introduce you to the state of Georgia’s pain and suffering damages in order to understand how pain and suffering is usually valued.
WHAT IS PAIN AND SUFFERING?
Pain and suffering is one category of money compensation that you have a right to pursue after you are injured in an accident along with other categories of damages such as medical bills. In Georgia, generally speaking, pain and suffering damages are designed to compensate you for the physical and mental pain you have experienced as a result of your injuries and the disruption to your daily life that being injured and in pain causes. Georgia law recognizes that your total costs when you are injured in a car accident through no fault of your own are more than just the total amount of your medical bills, lost wages, and out of pocket expenses.
Because the law can never give you back the time you lost going to see doctors or the sleepless nights you suffered through or erase the traumatic experience of suffering in pain from your serious injuries all caused by the negligence of another, it has designed pain and suffering damages to provide you money to compensate you for these things that also clearly result from a car crash.
HOW DO YOU PROVE PAIN AND SUFFERING?
Unlike itemized bills and payment receipts that can easily be added and totaled when considering claims in your lawsuit, pain and suffering damages are difficult to quantify. As a result, they are the damages most frequently fought over by personal injury attorneys and insurance companies. In Georgia, there is no set formula for converting your pain and suffering into dollars and cents.
It is actually a difficult concept for most injury victims to come to grips with because most would give anything to just go back to the way things were before the crash and not have to experience the pain, trauma, and aftermath of car accidents. How can they put a dollar figure on what they have had to go through or convince an insurance company what their pain and suffering is worth? This is where having an experienced personal injury lawyer is very important because these attorneys know how best to document your pain and suffering damages to an insurance company during settlement negotiations and to a jury at trial if a settlement never materializes.
There are multiple ways to try to demonstrate to an insurance company or jury the degree of pain and suffering you experienced following the crash. One of the easiest ways of determining liability for your pain and suffering is with your medical records. The more significant your injuries, the more obvious it should appear to an insurance adjuster just from reading about all of your diagnoses and treatment that you went through a lot of pain and suffering as a result of your injuries. While this can at times be an effective way to illustrate pain and suffering to an insurance adjuster, it is not always as effective for persuading a jury because jurors do not want to comb through several hundred or even several dozen pages of medical records in a jury deliberation room.
Another example of effective ways to prove your pain and suffering to a jury is through oral testimony, and nobody is in a better position to describe your pain and suffering than you. After all, nobody has experienced it like you have, and effectively communicating that to a jury during your testimony at trial can be a powerful way of documenting your pain and suffering.
You can also have friends and relatives who knew you before the crash and watched what you went through after the crash testify for you and tell the jury what they witnessed you go through. In certain cases, it can be even more effective to make a video to play to the jury to show what a typical day is like for you now that you are living with the aftermath of your severe injuries. Along with videos, pictures of your injuries when they occurred and at various stages of healing can also be an effective way to illustrate your pain and suffering as certain injuries will just scream “how painful that must have been” to jurors.
HOW MUCH IS MY PERSONAL INJURY CASE WORTH?
The answer to this question is the same frustrating answer an auto accident lawyer must so often give their clients – it depends. In Georgia, pain and suffering damages are determined by what the law describes as the “enlightened conscience of fair and impartial jurors.” In plain English, that means your pain and suffering damages are usually worth whatever a jury of your peers at trial decides they are worth.
Thus, one of the first key factors personal injury attorneys and insurance companies use in trying to estimate how a jury is likely to value pain and suffering settlement damages in a particular case is to look at the county where the case would be tried and evaluate how juries in that county have historically treated similar cases at trial. Jury verdicts and court files are public records, and there are services that compile historical information on case facts and jury verdicts so that both attorneys and insurance companies can research past cases and past verdicts to try to gauge what a future jury is likely to do with your case.
Certain Georgia counties are known to be friendlier to injured plaintiffs and historically award larger sums for pain and suffering while other counties are known to be extremely harsh skeptics when it comes to injured plaintiffs and rarely awards significant amounts for pain and suffering. Rural counties also generally differ from urban and suburban counties in their views of pain and suffering damages.
This means an insurance company reviewing the facts of two identical crashes with identical resulting injuries could arrive at significantly different settlement values for each simply based on the county in which the case would be tried. In Georgia, your case will be tried in the county where the person you are suing lives, so that one huge component of the valuation of your pain and suffering damages is almost completely out of your control.
Once you know what county your jury pool will come from, other factors the jury will use to value your pain and suffering include the degree to which your pain and suffering resulting from your injuries has caused:
• interference with normal living;
• interference with enjoyment of life;
• loss of capacity to labor and earn money;
• impairment of bodily health and vigor;
• fear of extent of injury;
• shock of impact of the crash itself;
• actual pain and suffering, past and future;
• mental anguish, past and future;
• limitation of activities.
This list helps illustrate how pain and suffering damages are designed to essentially convert all of the intangible trauma and the past and future physical and mental costs of being injured due to someone else’s negligence into dollars and cents. In trying to value how to help pay you for pain and suffering, you can envision each of the above categories having a sliding scale ranging from slight on the low end to severe on the other end.
The more of these categories into which your pain and suffering fit and the closer to severe they are on the sliding scale, the more your pain and suffering should be worth to a jury and consequently to an insurance company who is trying to reach a settlement based in large part on what they project a jury would award if your case went to trial. The more you have to stretch to try to make an unbiased neutral party believe your pain and suffering fits into more than two or three categories or is more than slight on the sliding scales, the lower your pain and suffering is likely worth at trial.
HOW IS PAIN AND SUFFERING CALCULATED?
Typically, after taking the evidence and all of the external factors into account, juries will award legal pain and suffering damages as some multiple of the total of your medical bills. Depending on where that jury is from, how many of the above categories the pain and suffering fits into, and where it lands on the sliding scale of each category, a jury could award pain and suffering damages by multiplying your total bills by anything from 1 to 10 or more.
It really just depends on the facts of the case, how good of an impression the jury has of you as the injured plaintiff, and so many other factors that no person or program can predict with 100% accuracy. This is why having an experienced personal injury attorney who knows how to gauge the likely value of your pain and suffering damages is so important to make sure you maximize the value of your case.