How is Compensation for Pain and Suffering Determined After a Car Accident?

Our Oklahoma City car accident lawyers have helped numerous crash victims get compensated for their medical bills, income losses, and pain and suffering. Calculating compensation for financial losses is fairly straightforward; but how do you assign a dollar value to physical pain or mental anguish? And is there any limit to how much compensation an injury victim can receive for pain and suffering in Oklahoma?

How is the Worth of an Accident Victim’s Pain and Suffering Determined?

There’s no question that serious injuries can result in enormous expenses, nor would anyone deny the fact that medical debts are a huge source of stress and anxiety for accident victims. But, needless to say, serious injuries cause more than just financial harm. For many injury victims, the physical pain and emotional anguish is by far the worst aspect of the personal injury. Dollar bills can be replaced and financial losses can be reimbursed; but how do you “reimburse” someone for their psychological distress and physical agony? How do you “compensate” someone for the nights they spent lying awake in a hospital bed, wracked with pain and devastated by depression?

Nothing can undo the suffering the victim has already endured, nor can anyone place an objective value on another person’s sensations, experiences, and feelings. All the same, negligence victims are entitled to financial compensation, which means juries and insurance companies must somehow attempt to assess the value or worth of pain and suffering. So how does this process work?

One way is to use the “multiplier” method, where the victim’s pain and suffering is calculated as 1.5 times the damages, two times the damages, three times the damages, and so forth, up to a certain limit (which is explained in detail in the next section). For example, if the victim had $10,000 in financial losses (e.g. medical bills, days out of work), the value of pain and suffering might be $15,000, $20,000, or $30,000. Another method, called the “per diem” (“per day”) method, multiplies a fixed number by the number of days you are expected to have pain and suffering.

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Your auto accident attorney will fight to recover the maximum amount to which you are entitled. Be wary of accepting an initial settlement offer, which typically undervalues the victim’s true costs and losses, without first reviewing the offer with an experienced lawyer.

Damages Caps: Does Oklahoma Limit Compensation for Pain and Suffering?

Compensation for a personal injury is also referred to as damages. For example, you may have seen news headlines about a plaintiff who was “seeking damages” in a certain amount. Likewise, when an accident victim wins a personal injury lawsuit, the jury will “award damages.” As provided by state law under 23 O.S. § 3, “Any person who suffers [harm] from the unlawful act or omission of another, may recover from the person [at] fault… compensation [for the harm] in money, which is called damages.”

However, not all damages are the same. Because pain and suffering is not a financial loss, it falls into a category of damages known as non-economic damages, sometimes called general damages. By comparison, financial losses like lost earnings and medical bills are considered special or economic damages.

This distinction is important because different types of damages are subject to different limits, which are called damages caps. (These caps vary dramatically from state to state, so if you aren’t an Oklahoma resident, you should refer to the damages caps in the state where you live.) Oklahoma does not cap economic damages, meaning there is no limit to the amount of compensation you can recover for financial losses like medical bills.

However, non-economic damages – compensation for your pain and suffering – are limited to $350,000 by 23 § O.S. 61.2(b), which states that “in any civil action arising from a claimed bodily injury, the amount of compensation which… may [be] award[ed] a plaintiff for non-economic loss shall not exceed $350,000.00, regardless of the number of [defendants] against whom the action is brought or the number of actions brought.”

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There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. There is no limit on compensation for pain and suffering in cases where the defendant:

  • Commits fraud in any way.
  • Hurts the plaintiff deliberately or acts maliciously.
  • Acts with “reckless disregard” for human safety. Recklessness means disregarding an obvious and unjustifiable risk.
  • Is “grossly” (extremely) negligent. Negligence means failing to exercise due care, leading to an otherwise preventable accident.

Schedule a Free Legal Consultation with Our Oklahoma City Car Accident Lawyers

If you or someone you love was injured in an Oklahoma City auto accident, you could be entitled to compensation for the negative effects the crash has had on your life. But don’t worry about complicated paperwork or stressful insurance negotiations while you are recovering from your injury – let Hasbrook & Hasbrook handle your claim for you.

Our dedicated, knowledgeable legal team has over 75 years of combined experience handling car accident claims in the Oklahoma City area, including rear-end collisions, head-on collisions, parking lot accidents, and other types of crashes. Call our law offices at (405) 698-3040 to set up a free legal consultation today.