One of the most common questions lawyers get is “how much is my personal injury case worth?” There is no precise personal injury calculator to tabulate the exact settlement amount you deserve. It is only after carefully examining the facts of the claim that a lawyer can estimate the value of your legal claim.
Types of Damages
Damages refer to the economic and non-economic costs associated with your case. The damages can be used to assess how much your case is worth. General damages refer to compensatory and punitive, as described below.
Compensatory damages are the straightforward, monetary losses you have suffered as a direct result of your claim. These include:
- Medical expenses – this can include previous, present, and future bills associated with your injuries and treatment.
- Lost wages – this can include wages you lost if you missed work due to your injuries or treatment. The sum might also include future wages lost due to your injuries or required medical care.
- Household services – this refers to money spent on tasks that you cannot complete around the house as a result of the incident.
- Future lost wages - this includes the money that would have been earned in the future if your injuries impact your ability to earn a living in the future.
- Medical care in the future – this includes the cost of planned medical care, as anticipated by a medical expert.
- Property damage – this includes costs associated with damage to your property, such as a vehicle or home.
Non-economic damages are those that cannot necessarily be measured in an exact monetary amount. This can include decreased quality of life, mental anguish, such as anxiety or depression, and loss of consortium, which is used to describe the loss of a quality relationship with a spouse or child.
Non-economic damages can be determined based on the severity of your injuries and how they have impacted your life.
Non-economic and economic damages are used to figure out how much to demand from an insurer. However, there are other factors that must be considered before filing a demand letter.
Punitive damages include the monetary amount awarded to a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit for the purpose of punishing the defendant or to deter the defendant from engaging in similar conduct in the future. They are most commonly awarded in cases in which the compensatory damages seem to be an inadequate remedy and/or when the defendant's conduct is beyond the norm.
The court takes several things into consideration when deciding whether or not to award punitive damages. Commonly considered factors include:
- How reprehensible the defendant's actions were (did the insurance company act in bad faith?)
- Whether similar cases ended with punitive damages being awarded
- The difference between the plaintiff's injuries or losses and the amount of punitive damages he is requesting
Substantially higher awards of punitive damages may be seen in cases in which:
- A value cannot be determined for the damage done to the victim
- There are injuries that are difficult to detect
- The victim is likely to need continued care in the future
- The defendant's conduct was extraordinarily offensive
How Damages Are Calculated
Each case has unique aspects and factors that can impact how much your personal injury case is worth. Your lawyer will take into consideration these aspects while determining how much to demand from an insurance company or other entity involved in the claim. A few things to consider that will impact the worth of your personal injury lawsuit include:
- The degree of each injury – More serious, incapacitating, or permanent injuries can require more extensive treatments, which can increase the damages.
- Medical treatment – Similar to the degree of injury, the types of treatments or length of treatment will impact how much your claim is worth.
- Contributory negligence – Were you partially at fault for the accident or injuries? If so, this could negatively impact the compensation you receive.
Other factors that are considered when calculating the amount to demand include:
- How the incident occurred and if any liability could be placed on you
- What type of injuries you have
- Are any of these injuries pre-existing and, if so, were they made worse
- Are any of the injuries permanent
- Amount, type and cost of medical care you have received
- Amount, type and cost of medical care you will need in the future
- Are there any gaps in treatment and, if so, why
- Lost wages
- When you will be able to return to work
- What restrictions on daily life activities you will have
- How has your life changed
- Has your spouse suffered
- Have your children suffered
Consider these points and jot down the answers to the areas above. A quick summary of the current status of your case will help an attorney make a reasonable estimate.
How Liability Can Impact Your Legal Claim
There are certain cases in which a plaintiff's actions (or inactions) can decrease the amount of damages available in a personal injury case. These include:
Comparative negligence – If you are found to be at fault, (partially or wholly), for the accident which caused your injuries, the amount of compensation you receive will reflect this. Comparative negligence, essentially, links damages to the degree of fault in a personal injury case.
Contributory negligence – There are certain states that follow a concept called contributory negligence for personal injury lawsuits. If this is the case in your state, you may not be able to recover any compensation.
Failure to mitigate damages after the accident – Plaintiffs in most states are expected to take reasonable steps to minimize or mitigate the financial impact of the harm caused by the accident. An example of failing to do this would be failing to seek out medical treatment due to an injury, causing the injury to worsen over time.
A skilled lawyer will thoroughly examine the circumstances surrounding your legal claim and determine if you are entitled to compensation. Learn more about negligence and liability below.
Does it Matter Who Was at Fault?
If your own carelessness contributed in any way to the accident, you may need to reduce the amount at which you expect to settle. The law may require a jury award to be reduced by your percentage of fault, dependent on the state you were in when the accident occurred.
The three most common types of “contributory” and “comparative” negligence rules include:
Pure Comparative Negligence States
The following states utilize the pure comparative negligence model, which may reduce the compensation you will be awarded by your percentage of fault, with no limits to the dollar amount reduced:
- Louisiana Mississippi
- New Mexico New York
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
Modified Comparative Negligence States
If your accident occurred in the following states, the dollar amount of your award can be reduced by your percentage of fault. If your own fault is greater than 50%, you cannot win any damages, so the settlement value of your case is much less than your damages, and can even result in no compensation. These states include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Contributory Negligence States
The following states have very strict rules on shared fault. Even if you are found to be 1% at fault, you cannot win any damages. If the evidence proves that your own carelessness contributed to your injuries, you cannot win any award in a lawsuit, and your entitled settlement value can be expected to be zero. These states include:
- District of Columbia
Do Not Admit Fault
Never admit liability during your initial demand. If the issue is raised, deny liability in any way for the accident, and allow the other side to make any argument they wish for your settlement to be reduced.
4 Key Factors When Calculating Personal Injury Case Worth
Overall, it is vital to take into account these key factors when determining the worth of your personal injury case:
- Medical bills – Calculate the medical bills the victim has incurred up to the time the case is ready to settle, and all anticipated medical bills which are projected to incur in the future.
- Lost wages – Calculate the wages lost up to the date the case is ready to settle, and wages which will be anticipated to be lost after the settlement.
- Pain and suffering - This will include the pain and suffering incurred through the date the claim settles, and any pain and suffering the injured party will continue to experience, after settlement, for the duration of his or her life.
- Loss of Consortium - If the injured party is married, his spouse (and in some states, children) may be entitled to loss of consortium (companionship) damages incurred both before and after the date the case is settled.
If you were hurt in an auto accident or any other personal injury incident, fill out our free case evaluation form to discuss your claim with an attorney.