If you've been the victim of a car crash that was someone else's fault and are contemplating taking legal action to seek compensation for damages, it's important to understand that there are two types of damages.

Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages

Special, or economic, damages are for economic harm that is quantifiable. These can include hospital bills, physical therapy costs, lost wages, and repair or replacement of your vehicle.

General, or non-economic, damages can be more difficult to prove and to quantify. However, you may be entitled to compensation for those as well.

"Pain and suffering" is probably the most common term used when discussing non-economic damages. However, they can also include mental anguish and emotional distress. They may include long-term physical impairment or disfigurement. People may face a shortened lifespan as the result of their injuries.

Surviving loved ones can also sue for non-economic damages, including loss of companionship and emotional distress. This is in addition to economic damages, such as lost wages, burial costs and more.

Calculating Pain and Suffering

How much money should be awarded for pain and suffering is highly subjective. Two people can experience the same thing and be impacted very differently. Attorneys who represent victims in these cases know what factors courts will consider and can work to make a case showing the presence and severity of those factors. Attorneys may point to how long a victim will need to recover and therefore to what extent his or her everyday activities and enjoyment of life are impacted.

Sometimes attorneys will base the pain and suffering damages they seek on the amount of economic damages they are asking for. This is called the "multiplier method." The assumption is that car crashes that result in significant economic damages are usually more serious and therefore likely to cause greater pain and suffering.

This isn't always the case, of course. For example, if an actor or model suffers scarring in a crash, it can cause considerably more emotional distress, not to mention impact his or her ability to get work, than if a teacher or accountant was left with facial scarring. Likewise, a professional basketball player who suffered multiple broken bones in a crash would likely have a much harder road back to his or her old life (if that's even possible) than someone who makes a living sitting at a desk.

An experienced car accident attorney in your area will know how much you can reasonably seek, based on the caps set by the state and your specific circumstances for both pain and suffering and other non-economic damages.