FAQs: Does Car Insurance Cover Pain and Suffering?
You were injured in a car accident. You are in pain, and your doctor told you that you can expect your pain to persist—perhaps for the rest of your life. Does car insurance cover pain and suffering? Here’s what you need to know.
When you are injured in a car accident, the hope is that you will get 100% better and be able to resume your normal life. Unfortunately, while this is often the case, some car accident victims experience lingering – and in some cases permanent – effects. Does car insurance cover pain and suffering? It depends, and you will need to consult with a lawyer to find out how much you are entitled to recover.
Does Car Insurance Cover Pain and Suffering?
When it comes to whether car insurance covers pain and suffering, it is necessary to distinguish between the various types of car insurance that are available. While some types cover pain and suffering, others do not. The types of car insurance that cover pain and suffering include:
1. Bodily Injury Liability (BIL) Coverage
When you are seriously injured in a car accident that was someone else’s fault, the best-case scenario from an auto insurance perspective is that the at-fault driver has bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage with a high policy limit. BIL coverage pays for all accident-related losses, including pain and suffering.
Bodily injury liability policy limits can vary widely; and, while some states require BIL insurance, others do not. As a result, in order to assess how much you can recover, it will be necessary to determine: (i) whether the at-fault driver has BIL coverage; and, (ii) if so, how much coverage is available.
It is also important to understand that BIL only provides coverage if the insured driver was at fault in the accident. However, not only must the insured driver be at fault, but you also must be able to prove that he or she was at fault in the collision. While fault can take many forms (i.e. speeding, tailgating or driving while distracted), proving fault is not easy, and it is strongly in your best interests to hire an experienced attorney for car accidents to represent you.
2. Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Coverage
The other type of car insurance that covers pain and suffering is uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. If you are in pain after a car accident, here are some important facts for you to know about UIM auto insurance:
- UIM insurance is coverage you buy to cover your own losses in the event of an accident. Unlike BIL insurance (which covers other drivers’ injuries), UIM insurance covers your injuries when you are involved in a collision.
- UIM insurance provides fault-based coverage. While UIM insurance is coverage you buy to protect yourself, in order to file a claim with your insurance company, you still need to be able to prove that the other driver was at fault in your collision.
- UIM insurance is optional in most states. While some states require drivers to carry UIM insurance, in most states it is optional coverage. You will need to review your policy’s “declarations page” to determine if this coverage is available to you.
- UIM insurance covers pain and suffering. As we already mentioned, UIM insurance provides coverage for pain and suffering. If you can prove that the other driver was at fault, you can secure compensation for your pain and suffering under your UIM policy.
- UIM insurance applies when the other driver’s coverage isn’t enough. As its name suggests, UIM coverage is available in two scenarios: (i) when the at-fault driver is uninsured, and (ii) when the at-fault driver does not have enough BIL insurance to cover your accident-related losses.
- In many states, it is possible to “stack” UIM insurance to secure additional compensation. Depending on where you live, if you have multiple vehicles with UIM coverage, you may be able to add up (or “stack”) your policy limits in order to increase the amount you can recover for your pain and suffering (and other losses).
If neither BIL nor UIM coverage is available to you, then you may not be able to recover compensation for your pain and suffering. The types of car insurance that do not cover pain and suffering include:
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Coverage – PIP coverage is insurance that you buy to protect yourself, similar to UIM. It is required in many states (including all “no fault” car insurance states), but it only covers medical bills and lost wages.
- Medical Payments (MedPay) Coverage – MedPay coverage is similar to PIP, but it provides coverage for medical bills only.
- Collision Coverage – Collision coverage is auto insurance that covers vehicle damage. It does not cover pain and suffering or any other injury-related costs.
- Comprehensive Coverage – Comprehensive coverage is another form of property damage insurance, and it also does not provide coverage for pain and suffering.
In short, the answer to the question, "Does car insurance cover pain and suffering?", is both "Yes" and No." While BIL and UIM insurance cover pain and suffering, PIP, MedPay, collision, and comprehensive insurance do not.
However, as we discuss in greater detail below, even if you do not have access to BIL or UIM coverage, this does not necessarily mean that you are out of options. In many cases, it will be possible to file a “third party” claim outside of car insurance to secure compensation for your pain, suffering, and other accident-related losses.
How Do You Calculate Just Compensation for Pain and Suffering After a Car Accident?
Let’s assume that you have access to BIL or UIM coverage; and, since the other driver was at fault, you are entitled to coverage for your pain and suffering. How do you calculate “just compensation” for these losses?
Unlike medical bills and lost wages, there are no hard numbers on which to base a calculation of pain and suffering damages, and there are no documents you can collect to demonstrate exactly how much you have lost. As a result, placing a dollar value on pain and suffering is not a straightforward process.
There are two main methods that the car insurance companies (and the courts) use to calculate just compensation. These are: (i) the “per diem” method, and (ii) the “multiplier” method.
Calculating Just Compensation for Your Pain and Suffering Starts with Calculating Your Financial Losses
With both methods, calculating just compensation for your pain and suffering starts with understanding the practical and financial effects of your injuries. This means that before you can determine the total amount of compensation you are entitled to receive, you first need to know how much you are entitled to recover for your:
- Current and future medical bills
- Current and future prescription costs
- Other current and future expenses
- Loss of earnings to date
- Loss of future earning capacity
Calculating these losses – and your future losses in particular – requires the assistance of an experienced accident lawyer. Your lawyer will need to work with your doctor to understand the long-term effects of your injuries, and he or she will need to review your medical and employment records in order to assess the amount you are entitled to recover for your financial losses (also called “economic losses” or “special damages”). Once you know the full extent of the practical and financial effects of your injuries, then you can use this to calculate your pain and suffering damages.
Calculating Just Compensation for Pain and Suffering with the “Per Diem” Method
The “per diem” method involves calculating two numbers: (i) a “daily rate” of compensation for your pain and suffering, and (ii) the number of days you are reasonably expected to experience pain and suffering in the future. Once you have these two numbers, then calculating your damages is simply a matter of multiplying one of these numbers by the other.
Of course, this is not nearly as easy as it sounds. What is a fair “daily rate” for the pain and suffering you will endure? How can you figure out how long your pain and suffering will last?
Just like the question, "Does car insurance cover pain and suffering?", neither of these questions have straightforward answers, and both of them require expert medical and legal advice. In general, “per diem” rates tend to be in the hundreds of dollars—although there are exceptions on both sides. The factors that will impact your “per diem” rate include things like:
- The nature and extent of your physical injuries
- The duration of your recovery, and whether you will be able to make a full recovery
- How your injuries impact your life on a day-to-day basis
- How your injuries impact your relationships with friends and family members
- Whether you will experience permanent scarring or disfigurement
- Whether you will experience any other long-term or permanent effects from your injuries
The expected duration of your pain and suffering is something that will primarily need to be determined by your doctor—although you will want your lawyer to be in communication with your doctor to help ensure that all relevant factors are considered. Depending on your personal circumstances, this could be anywhere from months to years, or perhaps even the rest of your life.
Calculating Just Compensation for Pain and Suffering with the “Multiplier” Method
With the “multiplier” method, compensation for pain and suffering is calculated based off of your financial losses. The insurance companies will take your total financial losses, and then apply a “multiplier”—which is typically between 1.5 and 5.
So, for example, if your financial losses total $30,000 and a “multiplier” of 1.5 is applied, then the compensation for your pain and suffering would come to $45,000. Or, if your financial losses total $100,000 and a “multiplier” of 5 is applied, then the compensation for your pain and suffering would come to $500,000—for $600,000 in total compensation. .
The factors that are used to calculate a “per diem” rate are also generally the same factors that are used to calculate a “multiplier.” In order to ensure that as high a “multiplier” is used in your case as possible, you will need to work closely with your accident lawyer throughout the insurance claim process.
What Are Your Options if You Cannot Recover Compensation for Your Pain and Suffering Through Auto Insurance?
What if the answer to the question, "Does car insurance cover pain and suffering?" is "No" given the circumstances of your case?
As we mentioned above, even if you do not have access to BIL or UIM insurance in order to secure compensation for your pain and suffering, you may still be able to recover your losses by filing a “third party” claim. This is a claim against a person or company (usually a company) that was not directly involved in your accident but that is nonetheless financially responsible for your losses.
When might you be able to recover compensation for your pain and suffering by filing a “third party” claim? Some of the most-common examples of third-party claims in car accident cases include:
- A claim against the driver’s employer (if he or she was working at the time of the accident);
- A claim against a vehicle manufacturer (if one of the vehicles involved in the accident was defective);
- A claim against a dealership or repair shop (if the accident resulted from negligent maintenance or repair work); and,
- A claim against a government agency or contractor (if the accident resulted from an issue with the road).
5 Tips for Securing Auto Insurance Coverage for Your Pain and Suffering After a Car Accident
So, now you know the answer to the question, "Does car insurance cover pain and suffering?" With this information in mind, what can – and should – you do to make sure you receive the full compensation you deserve? Here are five tips for what to do after a car accident in order to recover compensation for your pain and suffering:
Tip #1: Keep Following Your Doctor’s Medical Advice
When seeking to recover your losses after a car accident, it is absolutely essential to stick to your doctor’s medical advice. Do not start skipping or rescheduling appointments, and do not do things that could delay or hinder your recovery. Put your health and your financial recovery first—in the long run you will be glad you did.
Tip #2: Keep a Daily Log, Calendar, or “Pain Journal”
Even if the answer to the question, "Does car insurance cover pain and suffering?" is "Yes" given the circumstances of your case, you will still need to prove your losses in order to recover the compensation you deserve.
As we mentioned above, there is no documentation that provides clear evidence of your pain and suffering. However, you can create documentation that your lawyer can use to help prove your claim and seek as high a “per diem” rate or “multiplier” as possible. To do this, keep a daily log, calendar, or “pain journal.” Write down your pain levels throughout the day, make note of any activities you are unable to perform, and record all events you miss as a result of being in too much pain.
Tip #3: Do Not Get Impatient about Your Insurance Claim
Calculating just compensation for your losses takes time, and this is especially true when you need to seek compensation for your pain and suffering. However, it is important that you not get impatient about your insurance claim. Settling too soon could be a huge mistake—and it could be a mistake from which you are never able to fully recover.
Tip #4: Do Not Neglect Your Insurance Claim
While you should not get impatient about your insurance claim, you should not neglect it either. Respond promptly to all communications from your adjuster (or, better yet, have your lawyer respond for you), and keep doing everything you need to in order to make sure your legal rights are preserved.
Tip #5: Hire an Experienced Accident Lawyer to Help You
How can you make sure you do everything you need to? The best and easiest way is to hire an experienced accident lawyer to represent you. Your lawyer will be able to help you by:
- Referring you to doctors who can help with your pain and suffering claim
- Accurately calculating your current and future financial losses
- Determining whether the “per diem” or “multiplier” method makes the most sense in your case
- Calculating an appropriate “per diem” rate or “multiplier”
- Negotiating on your behalf to secure the full financial compensation you deserve