Pain and Suffering and "Minor" Car Accidents

Calculating non-economic damages after a less serious accident.

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If you get into a seemingly minor car accident that wasn’t your fault, you might wonder if you can still make a claim for pain and suffering. Then, even if you are legally entitled, you might think, “Is it even worth my while to make a claim?”

As a general rule, if the law allows you to make a claim, you might as well make the claim. Otherwise, that is money that you are entitled to, and you're essentially leaving it on the table for the insurance company to keep. Read on to learn more about pain and suffering damages in less serious car accident cases.

Am I Allowed to Make a Claim for Pain and Suffering?

Whether you can make a claim for pain and suffering in a small car accident depends on whether your accident happened in a “no-fault” state or not. “No-fault” car insurance means that your own automobile insurer will pay some or all of your medical bills and lost earnings if you get into a car accident, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. The legislatures in about a dozen states have enacted no-fault car insurance as a way to try to streamline car accident claims, especially smaller claims.

In no-fault states, you are not permitted to make a claim for personal injury damages against a negligent driver unless your medical bills reach a certain level or your injury is deemed sufficiently serious. The threshold for taking a claim outside of no-fault varies from state to state. Some no-fault states allow you to make a claim against the negligent driver if your medical bills exceed a rather low figure like $2,000. Others require either a minimum amount of medical bills or a serious injury like a broken bone. Get in-depth information, including the specific rules in place in every no-fault state, in our No-Fault Car Insurance section. 

Of course, in a non-no fault state, you are allowed to make a claim against a negligent driver no matter how minor your injuries are.

Symptoms That Might Arise After a Minor Car Accident

Small fender benders do not usually cause serious injury. But any car accident can cause minor injuries. If you get into a minor accident, you might get headaches; neck, back, or shoulder pain or stiffness; or muscle or ligament strains and sprains. You may feel these symptoms immediately after the accident, but it is not uncommon for a person who has been in a car accident to not have symptoms for a day or two. (More: Late-Appearing Car Accident Injuries)

Should I Get Medical Treatment After a Minor Accident?

If you are achy or simply do not feel right after a car accident, you should seek medical attention. You should make an appointment with your doctor -- or go to the emergency room if the pain is bad enough. But you should also be aware that, right or wrong, insurance companies generally assume that if you did not seek medical attention immediately, you weren’t that hurt.

How to Value a Small Claim for Pain and Suffering

Every claim is worth something, but smaller claims may not be worth very much at all. Let’s take an example. Let’s say that you were hit and it was the other driver's fault, but there is only minimal damage to your car. You began having headaches and neck pain the day after the accident. You saw your doctor, who told you to wait a week to see if it gets better. It didn’t get better, so you started chiropractic treatment, and saw a chiropractor twice a week for a month. After that, you were fine. You missed no work. In most no-fault states, you would not even be allowed to make a negligence claim, so let’s focus on non-no fault states.

In your case, the minimal damage to your car is going to tell the insurance adjuster that this was indeed an extremely minor car accident. The minimal treatment and lack of time missed from work is going to confirm that information. In this case, it would be rare for an adjuster to offer more than about $2,000. He/she might offer a little more, but they also might offer less.

So, we're back to the original question -- is it worth your while to follow through with a claim for damages in a minor car accident? Definitely yes. You got hurt, it wasn’t your fault, and it was aggravating and annoying to be injured. The person who hit you should pay for that. Even if it isn’t much, the negligent driver owes you for his/her carelessness. You should make the claim if the law in your state allows it. Learn more about calculating pain and suffering in a car accident case.

Legal Advice

State laws vary widely when it comes to car accident settlements and claims, and each claim has limitations and exclusions. In addition, recovery may depend on the particular insurance policies involved as well as judicial decisions in that state. If you get into even a minor car accident, you should contact a car accident lawyer to understand your rights and your legal options.

Updated by: , J.D.

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