By Logan Quirk
When you have been injured in an accident, you may wonder how much money you can claim in a legal settlement. A personal injury calculator can give you a general idea of what you might expect, but it is important to note that the intricacies of your case will play a large role in the final dollar amount. You should take the time to familiarize yourself with the various factors that go into calculating your settlement so that you understand how the process works. Here’s an overview to get you started.
Personal Injury Settlement Basics
Insurance companies and attorneys often work together to determine settlement amounts in personal injury cases. They start with a basic formula to come up with the starting point. From there, you and the other parties involved in the case will have the opportunity to negotiate. Of course, you will want to negotiate for the highest amount possible, while the other party will argue to lower the settlement.
The process is much the same for a wide range of personal injury cases, including auto accidents, slip and falls, dog bites and other similar incidents. Though each type of case will have its own specific details, the general process is relatively the same.
Calculating Your Settlement
Determining the amount you can claim involves estimating your economic and non-economic damages that occurred as a result of the incident. You can use a personal injury calculator to plug in these factors and get a ball-park figure, although this will only be a preliminary estimate.
Economic damages include things that can be quantified, like medical bills, property damage and lost income. Non-economic damages are a bit more difficult to quantify. Typically, this involves multiplying your economic damages by a chosen multiplier in order to compensate you for pain and suffering. Let’s take a look at each of these factors in greater detail.
Medical expenses are often the easiest to quantify so keep detailed records of any treatments you receive in the wake of the accident, along with their associated costs. Even if your health insurance company covered the costs and you didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket, you should still include the total amounts paid to get an accurate estimate of your expenses. If you did not obtain any medical treatment for your injuries but are still in pain, you’ll determine your settlement under the category of general damages, discussed in a later section.
When you have been in an accident, it is always a good idea to see your doctor for a check-up, even if you don’t have any serious injuries. Your doctor may be able to detect injuries that you don’t yet feel. Having this type of documentation on record can help to verify that any injuries were a direct result of the accident, setting you up to be able to claim compensation for future medical expenses if an injury flares up at a later date.
This category is used most often in cases involving car accidents, though it is possible that property damage can play a role in other cases as well. For example, if you shattered the face of an expensive watch in a fall, you may be able to include the cost of repairing or replacing the watch in your settlement. Take note of any repair costs for your vehicle or other damaged items to include in your settlement estimate.
This factor does not always apply. The value for your estimate may be $0 if there wasn’t any property damage in your case. If you slipped and fell, only harming yourself in the process, you would not be eligible to claim any compensation for property damage.
If your injuries were so severe that you were forced to take time off work, you may be able to get reimbursement for your lost wages. Tally up the total amount of time you were away from work, along with how much you normally would have expected to receive for that time. This includes your regular hourly wages or salary, as well as any commission, tips or other payment you might have received.
You should include this calculation even if you received compensation during your time off through employee benefits, like paid time off or sick leave. You would not have had to use those benefits had you not been injured, so you’ll want to recoup your losses. Employee benefits are considered part of your overall pay so they need to be factored into your calculations.
Future Lost Earnings
If you have not yet been able to return to work and expect to continue to miss work while you recover from your injuries, estimate the amount of time you will be away before you are healthy enough to return to your regular job duties. Remember to include commission, tips or other compensation as well.
As in the previous section, include an amount for this, even if you are being paid through your employee benefits. If you are unsure how long you will need to be away from work, your doctor may be able to help you understand your recovery process and give you an estimate of how long you can expect it to take. Be generous in your estimate as recovery from a serious injury doesn’t always progress as quickly as you might have hoped.
Future Medical Expenses
This is another area where you’ll likely need your doctor’s assistance. Based on the treatments you have already had and your progress towards recovery, your doctor can predict any ongoing treatment you may require. As with calculating your medical expenses, you should include the total amount, not just the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket.
Even if you won’t require extensive treatment in the future, you should still include the costs of follow-up appointments to verify that you have healed. During the recovery process, there may be unexpected complications. You’ll want to account for those as well.
This is where the calculation of your personal injury settlement gets a bit tricky. General damages represent the compensation you can receive for any ongoing pain and suffering you are experiencing as a result of the accident. This includes both physical and emotional pain, like if you are suffering from PTSD or anxiety in the aftermath of the incident.
Because neither physical nor emotional pain can be quantified, your legal team will assign a multiplier. The more serious and long-lasting your injuries, the higher the multiplier will be. Typically, this number falls somewhere between 1.5 and 5.
Your attorneys will take a variety of factors into consideration when determining your multiplier. This can include the severity of your injuries, the amount of medical treatment you have required and the amount of ongoing medical care you will continue to receive. It will also incorporate any permanent damage, like scarring, or long-lasting effects, like a limp, the loss of a limb or permanent brain damage. Finally, they’ll take into consideration any ongoing impact on your daily life, like difficulty caring for yourself or the inability to perform your regular job duties, forcing you to find a new career.
Of course, the other party’s attorneys will fight to lower the multiplier while your own legal team will push for a higher value. Once you have settled on a multiplier, you’ll multiply that value by the amount of your economic damages to determine the value of your general damages estimate. Then, you’ll total up all of the amounts in the above categories to come up with your final settlement estimate.
Negotiating Your Settlement
The estimate you have calculated will serve as the starting point for negotiations. The actual amount you receive will likely be lower than the initial estimate as a result of the negotiations, so don’t expect to receive the full amount. Your attorneys will fight to get you the highest settlement value but you may need to make some concessions in order to close the case, resulting in a slightly lower figure.
One of the key factors in the negotiating process is determining who was at fault in the accident. Typically, if you are filing a claim, it will be the other party who is at fault. However, there may be some cases in which your own actions contributed to the incident in one way or another. For example, perhaps you were looking at your phone and did not see that a car was running a red light before you stepped into the street.
Of course, the other driver is at fault for running the red light and hitting you, but you hold some of the blame for not paying attention to your surroundings.
It is important to note that you should never admit to any wrongdoing right off the bat. It is the other party’s responsibility to prove your role in the accident so don’t give them any unnecessary assistance. Of course, this does not mean that you should lie about your involvement; just don’t offer up this information until it is brought up in the negotiation proceedings.
The impact your involvement will have on your settlement depends on both the percentage of fault that was yours and the state in which the accident occurred. Each state has its own rules regarding personal liability in accident claims. They fall into three primary categories:
Pure Comparative Negligence
In states that follow the pure comparative negligence rule, the amount of your settlement will be reduced according to your percentage of fault in the accident. For example, if the court determines that you are 25 percent at fault, you will only receive 75 percent of the agreed upon settlement amount. In these states, you could still claim some of the settlement money, even if the accident was predominantly your fault.
The following states follow pure comparative negligence:
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
Modified Comparative Negligence
The modified comparative negligence model is similar to the pure comparative negligence format in that you can still receive a portion of the settlement amount, depending on your level of fault. However, the key difference is that if you were more than 50 percent at fault, you cannot claim any damages. Take some time to think about your involvement in the accident and do your best to be as objective as possible. It is easy to fall into the trap of only seeing things from your own perspective, coloring your perception with your own emotional responses, but the court will evaluate both sides from a logical standpoint.
You’ll find this type of arrangement in the following states:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Contributory negligence is the strictest of the three policies on shared fault. In this arrangement, you cannot claim any damages if you have any fault in the incident at all, even if this percentage is determined to be just 1 percent. If you live in a contributory negligence state, your attorneys will have to work hard to prove that you had no fault in the accident whatsoever. This can be quite difficult so you’ll need to carefully weigh your options if you live in a contributory negligence state.
This is the least common policy, and you’ll find it only in the following areas:
- Washington, D.C.
Get the Settlement You Deserve
Here at Quirk Law Group, we have helped countless individuals in California and Nevada with their personal injury claims and we can help you as well. Our attorneys will work tirelessly on your behalf in order to negotiate the most favorable settlement possible for your injuries, pain and suffering.
We understand how hard it can be to go through a lawsuit while you are recovering, so we do everything in our power to make the process as easy as possible for you. It all starts with a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your case and determine if you are eligible to receive a settlement. Get in touch with us today to get started.