Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How Much is Pain and Suffering Worth in New Mexico Auto Accident?

One of the most common questions I'm asked by clients is, "How much is my pain and suffering worth under New Mexico law?" 

By:  Mark Caruso, Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorney (Albuquerque, NM)

My response is always that I quantify pain and suffering using the facts of each case. I have been an attorney for 33 years.  During that time I have only handled personal injury and wrongful death claims.  I worked as an insurance company attorney for part of that time.  So, I will give you my own analysis.

The purpose of  pain and suffering is to compensate you for what you have been thru because of the accident that caused your injuries. 

This not only includes the physical pain, but also includes the psychological effects, the stress, the time at the physician's office, the effect on your lifestyle and hobbies, and basically how the accident has affected you as a person.

New Mexico law allows for compensation for pain and suffering in all personal injury cases where there is evidence of pain and suffering.  We will talk about the evidence and documentation to prove pain and suffering below.

Pain and suffering is in addition to medical bills, lost earnings and permanent injury.

Many people believe that the amount of medical bills dictates the amount of pain and suffering.

 The amount of the medical bills does not always dictate the amount of pain and suffering. 

Clearly, victims with broken ribs or bones have less medical bills but have much higher pain and suffering than soft tissue cases.  Soft tissue cases usually have higher medical bills, because treatment is more intensive, while broken bones can usually be casted and left without a lot of follow up care. Also, not much can be done to treat broken ribs.

Based on my experience of 33 years of handling personal injury cases, I believe as a general rule that the pain and suffering for soft tissue cases are worth about 3 times the reasonable and necessary medical bills.   I believe as a general rule that broken bone cases are worth about 8 times the medical bills. There should be additional compensation for  lost earnings,  future medicals and permanent impairment.

So here are some examples:

EXAMPLE 1:    John suffered a whiplash and back injury after an auto accident that was not his fault.  He was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, had a follow up with his primary doctor and then began treatment with a chiropractor.  His medical bills were $10,000  He had no lost earnings and no permanent impairment.  He felt fine after his treatment was concluded.

Using the formula of 3 times the medical bills, John's case should be valued at $30,000

EXAMPLE 2:   Carol suffered a broken arm after an auto accident that was not her fault.  She was taken by ambulance to the emergency room where her arm was casted.  She had two follow up appointments with her doctor who removed the cast 60 days later.  Her medical bills were $5,000.  She had no lost earnings and no permanent impairment.  She felt fine after her treatment was concluded.

Using the formula of 8 times  the medical bills, Carol's case should be valued at $40,000

Court Appointed Arbitrators in Albuquerque have been typically awarding 3 times the medical bills in court mandated arbitrations in Bernalillo County.  Juries are much more less predictable.

 It is extremely important that injured patients communicate to their health care providers all of their pain and  suffering and carefully describe how the injuries have affected them.  If they don't communicate pain and suffering to their health care providers, they will have a much more difficult time getting 3 times the reasonable and necessary medical bills.

The insurance company adjuster, judge, arbitrator or juror will carefully review the notes written by your health care provider. They will look at your reported pain levels and symptoms associated with the injury as reported by you to your health care provider.

Health care providers won't fabricate complaints and symptoms of pain and suffering, so if there are no complaints by the injured patient they will have nothing to document.   Picture it this way.  You need to give the doctor the ammunition for your gun.  They need you to feed them the information so they can document your complaints accurately and completely.

It is more difficult for men to communicate pain and suffering to their doctor.

The reason is that most men find it more difficult to complain about their pain.  Men are macho, and it may be considered a sign of weakness to complain of pain to their health care provider.

Nevertheless, men must report the pain to their doctor to get full value for their pain and suffering.
Again, please remember......Insurance company adjusters, judges, arbitrators and jurors will carefully read the medical records written by the health care provider.  If no pain and suffering is mentioned, don't expect a large amount of  pain and suffering.

A personal diary of how the injuries have affected you is also helpful. 

The diary can track specific instances an dates of pain and suffering.  The diary should include names of people who witnessed the discomfort and the degree of discomfort.  You can include events that occurred through the day that caused increased pain or discomfort.  The diary can also be read by the decision maker in determining how the injuries affected your daily life.

The most important advice I can give you in this blog is to document your pain and suffering.

Document your pain and suffering with your health care providers.

Document your pain and suffering with your employer.

Document your pain and suffering in a pain diary.

 Attorney Mark Caruso is a former insurance company attorney who now represents injured clients in their personal injury and wrongful death claims.    Caruso Law Offices has two locations in Albuquerque to serve its clients--Northeast Heights and Westside. Mr. Caruso will also meet you at your home, work or hospital on weekends and after-hours.

For a FREE consultation you can contact Mark Caruso at the Northeast Heights Office (Montgomery & Carlisle) at 505-883-5000 or his Westside Office (Coors NW and I-40) at 505-369-1361. You can also contact Mark Caruso directly at mark@carusolaw.com

Your consultation will be with Mark Caruso, not a legal assistant or paralegal.  He will give you a confidential and honest evaluation of your claim, discuss medical treatment and explain Caruso Law Offices'    discounted 29% contingency attorney fee on all personal injury and wrongful death claims.

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