Injuries suffered in a car or truck accident, slip and fall, or other personal injury incident in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., often include more than just the physical injuries or property damages you suffer. Your personal injury compensation is directly related to your past, present, and future medical bills. Certain other losses are also factored into the total, like out-of-pocket expenses and lost income. Calculating the total amount of your losses, or “damages,” is never easy. It often requires putting a price on things that don’t have a monetary value like pain, suffering, and emotional distress. Your total demand amount certainly won’t match up with the amount of money the insurance company is offering to pay.
Having a skillful and experienced attorney is also a significant factor. This is especially true if your injury claim is ultimately presented to a judge or jury. If you file a personal injury lawsuit that goes to court, the court may award “damages” or money, which is intended to compensate you fairly for the injuries you’ve suffered. Ultimately, the court decides what types of damages are awarded and the amount of compensation you receive as the injured party or plaintiff. Your attorney and you both play a big role in deciding what damages to seek and how you will prove your claims in court.
What Are Compensatory Damages?
Compensatory damages are the most commonly awarded category of damages. A dollar figure is assigned for each category or type of injury you suffered, based on the evidence that your lawyer presents to the court.
These damages are intended to “restore” you to the position you held before your injury. In other words, if you experienced property damage, then the court will determine the cost or value of that damage. If your lawsuit is successful, you will receive compensation equal to the cost of value of the losses you experienced.
Compensatory damages can include a wide variety of categories, including:
- Lost wages
- Medical bills
- Property damage
- Cost of household help
- Loss of future earnings ability
Not all of these categories are simple to prove in court. Sometimes there are no clear dollar figure amounts associated with them. It is up to your lawyer to employ his skill in the courtroom to convince the judge or jury of the amount of damages that should fairly be awarded to you in your injury case. A skillful lawyer will document his client’s damages through medical bills, charts, diagrams, photographs, witness testimony invoices, property damage assessments, benefit statements, and bank records, among other forms of physical evidence.
Non-financial injuries can be more difficult to prove. Damages can still be awarded for them though, if the court is convinced through evidence that compensation is due. Non-financial injuries may include, among others:
- Loss of enjoyment
- Loss of reputation
So How Do I Calculate my Case’s Worth?
As personal injury lawyer, I am regularly asked, “What is my personal injury case worth?” The answer depends on a multitude of factors and the unique circumstances of each injury case. Oftentimes, injury victims find themselves reviewing various self-help websites, and read that the value should be based on a formula: three times the medical bills plus lost wages. That answer is completely misleading, and, though this may be an acceptable formula to consider for certain types of cases, should never automatically be used as a formula to determine how much your case is worth.
Whether making a demand for settlement from an insurance company, or asking for money from a jury, it is important that a reasonable and responsible demand is made. If you make a demand too low, you will be under-compensated. If you make a request too high, the insurance company will refuse to settle, or the jury will react negatively to the injury victim.
When making a request for compensation, it is important not to just pull a number out of thin air. Various self-help resources and websites suggest that a fair value for settling a personal injury case is to add up all of the medical bills and multiply by three, and then increase it by lost wages. For example, if you had $50,000 in medical bills, those sources suggest you should hope to settle your case for $150,000 plus lost wages. Applying this rigid formula to all injury cases is misguided. A skillful and experienced injury lawyer will evaluate each case on its individual merits to determine value.
The flaws in this formula are obvious. It is not uncommon for someone in a truck accident to be taken by ambulance to a hospital emergency room such as Washington Hospital Center or The George Washington University Hospital, and undergo expensive diagnostic testing such as MRI’s and CT Scans, only to find out that they only have minor neck strains and are medically cleared a few hours later. It is not uncommon for medical bills from this quick hospital stay to run well over $25,000.
In contrast, it is not uncommon for someone that suffers a herniated disc that restricts their activities for the rest of their life to opt not to have surgery because of the high risk of surgical complications. This accident victim with a lifelong injury that did not go to an emergency room may only have $10,000 in medical bills.
To determine what a personal injury case is worth requires a careful examination of many factors. While those factors include the costs of medical bills, there are many other important factors such as: the extent of actual treatment compared to just diagnostics; the duration of the treatment; the invasiveness and/or pain associated with the treatment; the likelihood of pain or discomfort not only the near term future, but in the later stages of life; potential earnings losses; and how the injuries impact a particular persons enjoyment of life.
Besides calculating the extent of damages, valuation of a case must also be adjusted based on the likelihood of establishing fault upon the other person, as well as the economics of insurance policy limits, and/or collectability.
It is generally not advisable to try and handle your own personal injury case. Three times medical bills might be a great settlement in one case, and may be a horrific outcome in another. Rather than just guess at the value of case, please contact myself or another personal injury attorney in our office for a free consultation.