How Is Pain & Suffering Calculated in a Pennsylvania Car Accident?

A woman gets out of her car and looks at a car accident

When you are injured in a Pennsylvania car accident, you suffer financial, physical, and emotional damages. Examples of financial damages include funeral expenses, lost wages, medical bills, property damage, and personal care. These economic losses are recoverable from the party who caused the car accident under Pennsylvania's personal injury laws. Your physical and emotional damages are also recoverable.

What Is Pain & Suffering in a PA Personal Injury Case?

Physical and emotional damages are commonly referred to as "pain and suffering." Your physical damages include the physical pain you suffer due to your injuries, scarring, disfigurement, and permanent disability. You may have other physical damages depending on the injuries you sustained in the car accident.

Emotional Damages

Emotional damages cover the emotional suffering a person endures because of an accident. Emotional damages include but are not limited to stress, anxiety, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and grief.

Emotional damages can cause the following:

  • PTSD
  • Intrusive thoughts and flashbacks
  • Anxiety
  • Lapses in parts of a person’s life because of emotional distress

Can You Sue for Pain & Suffering in PA?

In Pennsylvania, individuals who have suffered injuries due to the negligence or intentional acts of others may have the legal right to pursue compensation for their pain and suffering. However, certain rules and limitations apply.

Here's a breakdown of the legal landscape related to suing for pain and suffering in the state:

  • General Damages: Pain and suffering falls under the category of "general damages" in personal injury claims. These damages are non-economic, meaning they don't have a specific monetary value attached to them, unlike medical bills or lost wages. Instead, they compensate the plaintiff for the physical pain and emotional distress experienced as a result of the injury.
  • Limited Tort vs. Full Tort Insurance: Pennsylvania has a unique system when it comes to auto insurance, where policyholders can choose between "limited tort" and "full tort" options. Those who select "limited tort" typically pay lower premiums but give up their right to sue for pain and suffering in most car accident cases, unless the injuries sustained meet a defined threshold of seriousness or other exceptions apply. Those with "full tort" coverage can sue for pain and suffering regardless of the severity of their injuries.
  • Comparative Negligence: Pennsylvania follows a modified comparative negligence rule. This means that if a plaintiff is found to be partially at fault for their injuries, their compensation can be reduced in proportion to their fault. However, if a plaintiff is found to be more than 50% at fault, they cannot recover any damages.
  • Caps on Damages: While Pennsylvania does not have a cap on pain and suffering damages in most personal injury cases, there are exceptions. For instance, in lawsuits against the state government, damages for pain and suffering are capped at $250,000 per plaintiff and $1 million in total per single accident. Suits against local governments have a cap of $500,000 in total damages, inclusive of pain and suffering.
  • Proof and Presentation: To recover for pain and suffering, plaintiffs must present evidence, typically through personal testimony, medical records, and expert witnesses, demonstrating the nature and extent of their suffering. Jurors are given the challenging task of assigning a monetary value to these non-economic damages.

Why Pain & Suffering Differs from Other Damages

Pain and suffering damages differ from other types of damages in a personal injury case because they are noneconomic. In other words, pain and suffering compensation is not meant to cover any specific monetary losses experienced by the plaintiff.

Because of their nature, an average pain and suffering settlement is not predictable. This is because a plaintiff doesn’t ask for a specific amount of damages as they would for losses involving damages such as medical bills and lost wages. Instead, pain and suffering damages in Pennsylvania are determined using calculations involving the unique details of a person’s situation.

Calculating Pain & Suffering Damages

It is more difficult to calculate pain and suffering damages than it is to calculate economic damages. Economic damages are "quantifiable" meaning they can be measured in actual monetary figures. For example, to calculate your medical damages, you add all the medical expenses to date to any anticipated future medical expenses. You do this with all other economic damages.

However, pain and suffering damages are different for each person. Two people can suffer the same injuries, but their pain levels and the emotional suffering may be far different because each person experiences things in a unique way. Because there is not an "invoice" or a "bill" for your pain and suffering, we use several factors to calculate the dollar figure for pain and suffering.

Factors used to calculate pain and suffering damages include:

  • The type of injuries sustained;
  • The age of the person;
  • The extent or severity of the injuries;
  • The degree of permanent injury including scarring and disfigurement;
  • The interruption to daily life including activities you are unable to perform due to your injuries;
  • The impact of your physical injuries on your well-being;
  • The emotional trauma suffered including stress, anguish, grief, pain, and anxiety; and,
  • The length of time it has taken you to recover.

The factors above are just a few of the ways pain and suffering can be quantified. A person might be entitled to pain and suffering damages if they suffered humiliation, embarrassment, or the loss of the enjoyment of life because of their injuries.

Why Should I Keep a Pain Journal After My Accident?

Placing a dollar figure on your pain and suffering is extremely difficult because this type of accident damage is subjective. It is impossible for a jury to understand your level of pain and suffering because they do not live with you day-to-day to see how the injuries have affected your life. Keeping and pain journal can assist your personal injury attorney in substantiating the level of pain and suffering you experienced because of your injuries.

Tracking how your injuries affect your daily activities and prevent you from enjoying the things you did prior to the accident can help a jury understand your level of pain and suffering.

Examples of items you want to track in your pain journal include:

  • Your pain level on a scale of 1 to 10
  • The physical and emotional symptoms you suffer due to the injuries
  • The duration of your symptoms
  • Specific tasks you are unable to perform
  • Activities you are unable to do because of the injuries
  • Medication side effects
  • How often you must take your pain medication
  • Episodes of depression or anxiety
  • The days you were unable to get out of bed due to pain or depression
  • How many days you missed at work because of your injuries

In addition to your journal, keep photographs of your physical injuries as you heal and copies of any documents that would substantiate the notes in your journal. Keeping a pain journal may help your case; however, remember the journal may not remain private because your attorney may need the journal as evidence.

When Are Pain & Suffering Damages Possible in a PA Personal Injury Case?

Pain and suffering damages are possible with almost any type of personal injury claim. A person needs to be able to provide evidence that their pain and suffering was caused by their accident. For example, if an accident caused a person to sustain a neck injury that made their life harder throughout the recovery process, they might be able to claim pain and suffering.

Get Help from an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney in Harrisburg

Every injury and every car accident is different. Our personal injury attorneys have extensive experience calculating pain and suffering damages according to the laws and verdicts in Pennsylvania. The goal is to maximize the amount of compensation you receive for pain and suffering.

We have fought many insurance companies on pain and suffering damages. Therefore, we understand the tactics used by insurance companies to reduce pain and suffering damages and how to successfully combat those tactics.

Contact our car accident attorneys for a free case evaluation. We want to seek justice on your behalf from the at-fault driver who caused your injuries.

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