If you're in a car accident that isn't your fault, you're entitled to recover your lost income, medical bills, property damage, and other out-of-pocket expenses. You're also entitled to compensation for the "pain and suffering" your injuries cause you, even if the car accident was minor.
Here's what you need to know about collecting pain and suffering damages after a minor car accident:
Not all car accidents are serious. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were over 5 million police-reported car crashes in 2020. Of those crashes, roughly 3.6 million involved property damage only, 1.6 million involved varying degrees of injuries, and 35,000 involved fatalities.
Minor accidents aren't as dangerous as serious accidents, but they can still result in property damage and injuries. A minor accident might be a momentary hassle or it might cause longer-lasting physical and emotional pain.
Examples of common injuries caused by minor car accidents include:
Car insurance companies don't distinguish between minor and major car accidents. If you've been injured in a minor accident, you can ask for compensation for your pain and suffering from the at-fault driver.
Pain and suffering is a legal term used to describe the physical and mental suffering caused by someone else's negligent or wrongful act. Pain and suffering includes:
For example, if you're rear-ended at a stop-light and develop a concussion from the jolt to the head, you can get compensation for the physical pain and discomfort of the concussion itself (headaches, pressure in the head, nausea, dizziness). You can also get compensation for the anxiety you experience when driving after the accident and for having to miss activities, like family vacations and work conferences.
You can get compensation for pain and suffering after a minor car accident. The wrinkle is that it might be difficult to show the extent of your pain and suffering after a seemingly minor car accident.
Compensation for pain and suffering is linked to your accident-related medical bills, so the higher your medical bills, the higher the value of your claim. If you don't see a doctor for treatment after a minor car accident, you'll have a hard time getting an insurance adjuster to take your pain and suffering claim seriously.
Insurance companies don't reveal the exact formulas their adjusters use to calculate pain and suffering damages. But many adjusters use some variation of the multiplier method.
An adjuster using the multiplier method would add up your accident-related medical bills and multiply the total amount by a number between one and five (the "multiplier").
The adjuster chooses a multiplier based on factors like:
The more severe and permanent your injury, the higher the multiplier. For example, if you shattered your leg in an accident and had to endure multiple surgeries, you'd get more money for your pain and suffering than you would if you sprained your ankle.
You can get compensation for your pain and suffering after a car accident by filing an insurance claim or a car accident lawsuit against the at-fault party.
Whether you are negotiating with an adjuster or arguing your case in court, you'll need to support your pain and suffering claim with evidence.
Evidence of your pain and suffering might include:
Many car accident lawyers recommend that you keep a car accident diary documenting what you experienced during the accident, how your injuries have impacted your life, and how your life has changed because of the accident.
Your memory of your injuries and their effects on your life will fade faster than you think. A daily journal or log can help you get the most out of your claim.
Dealing with insurance companies is a hassle, no doubt. Before you make a car accident claim, think about whether the value of a potential settlement is worth the time and effort it will take to make a claim.
If your shoulder was bruised from your seatbelt during a fender bender and you recovered in a few days or a week, it might not be worth the hassle of asking for compensation for pain and suffering. But if you suffered a severe neck strain and had to miss work for a month, pursuing a claim might make sense.
In addition to the seriousness of your injuries, another factor to consider is whether fault for the accident is in question. When fault isn't clear cut, the adjuster will be more likely to push back against your claim or deny it altogether and you'll have to decide whether to file a car accident lawsuit.
Despite your best efforts, you might not be able to settle your insurance claim. The adjuster might not be willing to budge from a low ball offer for your pain and suffering or might insist that the accident was your fault.
You have the option of filing a car accident lawsuit against the at-fault driver to get compensation for your pain and suffering. You might be able to file your lawsuit in small claims court if you're asking for less than the dollar limit in your state. Small claims courts are a quicker, less expensive, and less formal way to resolve relatively "minor" cases than civil courts.
If you can't file in small claims court, you'll have to decide whether it's worth filing a civil lawsuit. Going to civil court is stressful, expensive, and time-consuming, so most people choose to sue only if there's a lot of money at stake. A lawyer can talk you through the pros and cons of the litigation process.
You might be able to handle your own insurance claim or even your own lawsuit after a minor car accident. But a car accident lawyer can be a big asset.
A lawyer can answer your questions, help you estimate the value of your claim, expertly negotiate with adjusters, and fight for you in court if necessary. Most car accident lawyers take a set percentage of your settlement or court award as a fee. You might find it's worth the money to avoid the hassle of representing yourself and to get the best outcome possible in your case.
Learn more about hiring a car accident lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.