The Multiplier Method: How is Pain and Suffering Calculated?

In a personal injury case, a multiplier is a numerical value used to quantify the extent of a claimant’s non-economic losses, often referred to as “pain and suffering” or general damages. These losses encompass elements that are intangible and difficult to assign a specific monetary value, such as emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, or physical pain.

The multiplier method is the most common way personal injury attorneys calculate non-economic damages. This method sums all of your economic damages, and then multiplies that figure by a number between 1.5 to 5.

The multiplier method uses a scale ranging from 1.5 to 5 to reflect the severity of these non-economic damages, with higher values indicating more severe injuries. The multiplier uses the total of the claimant’s economic damages (also known a special damages), such as medical expenses and lost wages, to estimate a reasonable compensation for pain and suffering.

Person in hospital - The multiplier method for calculating pain and suffering damages

What are Pain and Suffering Damages?

Pain and suffering damages refer to the compensation provided for the physical pain and emotional distress suffered by a claimant due to an injury. These damages are often categorized into two types:  physical pain and suffering, and mental pain and suffering.

Physical Pain and Suffering

Physical pain and suffering pertain to the discomfort and pain experienced by the victim as a direct result of the injuries sustained. Examples of physical pain and suffering in personal injury claims include:

  • Broken bones or fractures causing extreme discomfort and limiting mobility.
  • Back and neck injuries leading to chronic pain and potential long-term disability.
  • Burn injuries causing intense pain and requiring extensive treatment.
  • Spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis and life-long pain management.
  • Traumatic brain injuries impacting cognitive function and causing persistent headaches.
  • Soft tissue injuries such as joint sprains and strains causing pain and mobility issues.
  • Injuries requiring surgery, which come with their own set of post-operative pains and complications.
  • Chronic pain conditions developed as a result of the injury, such as fibromyalgia or neuropathic pain.
  • Scarring and disfigurement leading to physical discomfort and emotional distress.
  • Amputation injuries, which lead to life-long disability.

Mental and Emotional Pain and Suffering

Mental pain and suffering encapsulates the psychological impact of the injury, such as:

  • Anxiety and fear related to the traumatic event or the possibility of future health complications.
  • Depression or feelings of hopelessness due to the altered lifestyle or physical capabilities after the injury.
  • Insomnia or other sleep disorders caused by physical discomfort or psychological stress.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may include flashbacks, nightmares, or severe anxiety.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life, such as an inability to participate in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Emotional distress caused by disfigurement or disability.

Pain and suffering damages, being non-economic, do not have a clear monetary value and thus require the use of the multiplier method for calculation in personal injury claims.

Deciding on a Multiplier in Your Personal Injury Case

Deciding on a multiplier in a personal injury case can often be a complex process due to the subjective nature of the categories of pain and suffering. There is no standard multiplier applicable to all cases, as it largely depends on the specific circumstances and severity of each case. Factors influencing the choice of multiplier may include the duration of recovery, the degree of fault, the impact on lifestyle, or the extent of long-term implications of the injury.

Lawyers may use precedents from previous similar cases as a guide, but the ultimate decision is often a matter of negotiation between the claimant’s and defendant’s sides. Therefore, understanding the multiplier method and its application is crucial for claimants to ensure they receive fair compensation for their pain and suffering. It is often advisable to seek expert legal advice when navigating this aspect of a personal injury case.

What Factors Justify a High Multiplier?

A high multiplier in a personal injury case is justified based on several contributing factors. These predominantly revolve around the severity of the injury, the impact of the injury on the individual’s daily life, and the long-term repercussions of the incident.

  • Severity of the Injury:  Serious injuries like traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, or severe burns that cause intense pain, require extensive medical treatment, and result in long-term or permanent disability are often associated with a high multiplier.
  • Long-term Implications:  If the injury leads to enduring health conditions such as chronic pain, disfigurement, or mental health issues like PTSD or severe depression, a higher multiplier may be used to account for these lasting effects.
  • Impact on Quality of Life:  The degree to which the injury has impacted the individual’s lifestyle significantly influences the multiplier. If the victim can no longer participate in activities they enjoyed before the incident or if their ability to work and earn a living has been compromised, a high multiplier may be warranted.
  • Medical Prognosis:  A grim medical prognosis, such as a low chance of full recovery or a high likelihood of future health complications, can also justify a higher multiplier.

Remember, a high multiplier provides a greater compensation for pain and suffering, reflecting the increased non-economic damages suffered by the victim. Therefore, it is vital to accurately assess all these factors to ensure fair compensation.

Why Using a High Multiplier Can Backfire

While a high multiplier can yield significant pain and suffering damages, its use can sometimes backfire. This primarily occurs because insurance companies or defense lawyers may view an excessively high multiplier as an attempt to overreach or inflate the damages.

Skepticism from insurance adjusters could lead to increased scrutiny of your medical records and personal life, creating a more contentious negotiation process. Moreover, if your claim cannot substantiate the high multiplier used, it may undermine your credibility and cause the defendant to dispute your entire claim.

Additionally, if your case proceeds to court, a judge or jury may perceive an overly high demand as unreasonable or greedy, which could negatively influence their decision. Hence, while it’s critical to accurately convey the extent of your suffering, it’s equally important to maintain a reasonable and justifiable approach when applying the multiplier method.

Green tree in the shape of a dollar sign with leaves falling off as an icon of wealth loss due to lost wages

How are Lost Wages Treated in the Multiplier Method?

Lost wages are a crucial part of the calculation in the multiplier method, but they are not included in the multiplier itself. Lost wages, also referred to as lost earnings, represent the income you couldn’t earn due to your injury and the resulting inability to work. These are considered as part of your “special damages” or “economic damages” – essentially, the quantifiable monetary losses resulting from the injury.

When using the multiplier method to calculate pain and suffering, you first total your economic damages, which include medical bills and lost wages. This sum is then multiplied by a selected number (the multiplier) to estimate the value of non-economic damages, like pain and suffering. So while lost wages do not directly influence the multiplier chosen, they are essential to the overall calculation and can significantly impact the total amount of damages claimed.

In cases where you’ve suffered a severe injury that affects your ability to work long-term or permanently, these future lost earnings can also be quantified and included in your economic damages. Therefore, lost wages both past and future, play a significant role when using the multiplier method in personal injury claims.

Sample Multiplier Calculation

Let’s examine a hypothetical scenario to understand how the multiplier method is utilized in personal injury claims.

Consider John, who slipped and fell at a local grocery store due to a spill that wasn’t cleaned up promptly. As a result, John suffered from a broken leg and a concussion. His medical bills totaled $20,000. Due to his injuries, John also had to miss work for 12 weeks, which resulted in lost wages amounting to $6,000. In this case, John’s economic damages (medical bills + lost wages) would amount to $26,000.

Due to the severity of his injury and its impact on his life, let’s assume a multiplier of 3 is decided upon (taking into account the guidelines mentioned above). Applying this multiplier to John’s economic damages ($26,000 x 3), we get $78,000. This would be the estimated value for his non-economic damages, including pain and suffering. Therefore, John’s overall claim, combining economic and non-economic damages, would total $104,000 ($26,000 economic damages + $78,000 non-economic damages).

Why is the Multiplier Method Used to Estimate a Pain and Suffering Settlement?

The Multiplier Method is frequently used to estimate a pain and suffering settlement due to its simplicity and relative fairness. It systematically takes into account the tangible economic damages and multiplies them by a certain number (often determined by the severity and impact of injuries) to account for the less tangible, non-economic damages.

This method provides a straightforward way to quantify the subjective and often intangible aspects of pain and suffering, offering a starting point for negotiations. However, it is important to remember that while it provides a guideline, the actual award for pain and suffering can vary greatly based on the specifics of the case, legal jurisdiction, and the decision of the judge or jury.

Criticisms of the Multiplier Method

Despite its widespread use, the Multiplier Method is not without its critics. Here are some common criticisms:

  • Oversimplification: Critics argue that the method oversimplifies the complex process of quantifying non-economic damages like pain and suffering. It reduces these subjective experiences to a mere multiplication of economic damages, which may not always accurately reflect the victim’s true suffering.
  • Inconsistency: The Multiplier Method often leads to inconsistent results due to the wide range of multipliers that can be used. As there is no universally accepted standard for selecting the multiplier, different evaluators might arrive at significantly different estimates for similar cases.
  • Overemphasis on Economic Damages: Critics also point out that the method overly emphasizes economic damages, which could lead to smaller settlements for victims who have suffered serious non-economic damages but have lower economic damages. This could potentially disadvantage those with lower incomes or those who are not employed.
  • Subjectivity: Although the method is meant to introduce some degree of objectivity to the estimation of non-economic damages, the choice of multiplier is still largely subjective and can be influenced by personal bias or prejudice.
  • Potential for Abuse: There is a potential for misuse of the method, as parties may be tempted to inflate economic damages or use an unjustifiably high multiplier to secure a larger settlement. This could lead to skepticism and resistance from insurance companies or defense lawyers, as noted earlier.

Learn More About Pain and Suffering Multipliers from Our Attorneys

In conclusion, the multiplier method offers a practical, albeit imperfect, approach to estimating general damages for pain and suffering in personal injury claims. It provides a means to translate the intangible and subjective experience of pain and suffering into a monetary sum, taking into account the tangible economic damages incurred.

While its simplicity and relative fairness make it a commonly used method, critics argue that it oversimplifies the process and may result in inconsistency, overemphasis on economic damages, and potential for abuse. Still, despite its drawbacks, the multiplier method remains a critical tool in the initial stages of negotiating personal injury settlements. It is crucial for both plaintiffs and defendants to comprehend its workings, strengths, and limitations to ensure fair representation and outcomes in these cases.

If you need help with a personal injury claim, contact Thompson Law today for a FREE CONSULTATION. We have a long history of obtaining excellent results for our clients, and are standing by ready to guide you through the personal injury claims process.
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