Is Pain and Suffering Awarded After a Minor Car Accident?

In most states, someone injured in a car accident due to another person’s fault is entitled to recover compensation, which includes physical and emotional pain and suffering. However, in about a dozen states, compensation for pain and suffering is available only if the accident is defined under state law as “serious.”

In some exceptions, “serious” can be defined when there are other special factors that apply. In other words, whether pain and suffering can be awarded after a minor car accident depends on where the accident occurs and how “minor” is defined.

What is a minor car accident?

Often it is assumed that a low-impact collision will not result in injuries, but even a crash at 2-5 miles per hour can result in long-lasting disability. Therefore, it is important to see a doctor because certain conditions may be unnoticeable for days or even weeks. However, their outcomes can be improved by early identification and treatment.

How are pain and suffering determined?

Most car accident lawsuits include a claim for pain and suffering if it has caused physical injury. As a rule of thumb, the level of injury sustained is related to the amount recovered in pain and suffering. For example, as a generic baseline, pain and suffering might be equal to three times the medical bills unless individual factors indicate it should be higher or lower.

Most states follow a liability-based system when it comes to car accidents. Within this context, an injured party and their personal injury attorney may bring a lawsuit against the driver whose negligence caused the accident and the resulting injuries and property damage. Under this system, an at-fault driver would be liable for pain and suffering even after a seemingly minor accident.

About a dozen states, including New York, have no-fault laws that change how an injured party may recover compensation. If you are injured in New York, instead of seeking compensation from the at-fault driver for a minor accident– you will need to file a claim under your insurance policy. In this instance, recovery will usually be limited. In these personal responsibility states, you cannot recover non-economic damages.

Pain and suffering in a no-fault state

In a no-fault state, an injured party cannot collect for pain and suffering without crossing a threshold. It will usually be a minimum value of medical bills or an injury categorized as “serious” under that state’s law.

In New York, for example, a person may not recover damages from a motor vehicle accident unless it meets the state’s definition of “serious,” which would include the following:

  • Death
  • Dismemberment
  • Significant disfigurement
  • Fracture
  • Loss of a fetus
  • Permanent loss of use or significant impairment of an organ, member, bodily function, or system
  • A non-permanent injury or disability that prevents the performance of substantially all of the material acts of the individual’s daily routine. This must be true for at least 90 out of the 180 days immediately following the accident

A car accident victim who sustains a serious injury in a no-fault state may then bring a lawsuit against the at-fault party to recover non-economic losses like pain and suffering.

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How to pursue a pain and suffering claim for a minor car accident

In a liability-based state, your pain and suffering will typically be included in your insurance claim or lawsuit. Speak with an experienced attorney as early as possible to be sure your claim is calculated properly. Once you settle your case with the insurance company, you will not be able to go back and add in additional losses like pain and suffering.

If you are in a no-fault state, your options will be more limited for recovering pain and suffering. A team of skilled New York City personal injury lawyers can discuss your case and determine whether you meet any of the factors necessary to surpass the threshold. This would allow you to file a lawsuit.

If you have been injured in a crash, speak with a car accident attorney in New York. At Douglas & London, our New York City car accident lawyers are committed to pursuing the compensation needed to make you whole. Call today to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss your situation.

Additional Resources:

  1. NCBI, Rear-end impacts: vehicle and occupant response,
  2. New York Department of Financial Services, Auto Insurance Need to Know: Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements,
  3. Findlaw, New York Consolidated Laws, Insurance Law – ISC § 5102. Definitions,