By Logan Quirk
No one wants to go through the hassle of seeking a personal injury settlement. In addition to the pain and discomfort from an accident, as well as the potential psychological scars, you’ll have to deal with all the legal steps that go into a personal injury case. However, there are times when personal injury settlements are necessary if you are to begin rebuilding your life.
Life is risky and all of us understand this. This is why we take steps to measure and understand those risks. For a football player, they understand that a broken leg during a game is unlikely, but they also recognize that they are statistically more likely to suffer this injury than the average man or woman in the street. This is why we don’t hear of many settlements arising from this situation.
But if you stumble in a pothole on a children’s playground and break your ankle or if you sprain your wrist due to a faulty automatic door in a convenience store, the story is a little different. These are times when we expect a low level of risk and assume we’re safe going about our daily lives. We don’t anticipate another party’s neglect or action to cause an injury. When you are injured and someone else is responsible, you may decide to seek a personal injury settlement so you can pay for your medical costs and take care of other expenses or losses.
So, what exactly can you expect in the way of compensation? How much is the average personal injury settlement for a member of public in the United States? Our clients ask us these questions all the time, and understandably so. After all, they are worried about what they can expect and what lies ahead of them.
With this guide, we aim to put those anxieties to rest once and for all. We will examine how these settlement accounts are calculated and provide you with a handy means of seeing how these different elements apply to your own situation. This will help you to arrive at a ballpark figure for your own claim so you can begin the planning process.
It is important, however, that we provide a disclaimer before we get into it. There is no way of knowing exactly how much anyone will receive from a claim. There are so many different factors involved (as you will see as you progress through our guide) that it is impossible to put a dollar amount on any injury until it has been thoroughly examined. Instead, this guide is designed to help you get to grips with the claim process and the potential settlement.
When legal teams negotiate and then agree upon a settlement, that settlement has many different components. This means the calculation is a complex one. However, understanding this calculation is critical if you are to try to work out how much you can expect for your own situation.
The amount you receive from your personal injury settlement will be based upon loss of earnings, medical expenses, suffering and pain, and any disruption you experience in your daily life. Take a look at these elements in more detail below, along with examples that can help you to understand what this means in practice.
If you suffer a personal injury and you can no longer work in the way that you used to, this is going to cause a problem. Perhaps you have disability insurance or perhaps your employer is able to offer you paid leave that covers a substantial amount of your time off.
Of course, this is not always the case. You may find that if you cannot go to work you will not receive any income. You may also find that you are able to attend work but you are not able to fulfill the duties you would usually be expected to handle. If your work is client based or is subject to other, similar amendments to pay, this can also affect your income.
If you are self-employed, life can become even more difficult. You may lose significant earning potential and even damage your business in the long run. All of this will be taken into account when deciding on your final settlement.
What does this mean in practice?
Let’s say that your role brings you in $2500 per month. If you don’t work for this month, you receive no income, minus a couple of mandatory sick days. You provide the documentation that shows that you would have received this amount of money, as well as proof that you have not received this sum. This becomes the baseline for your legal team’s negotiations. Remember, even if the court rules in your favor, you might not be entitled to the whole of the $2500. This is used as a guide for the decision.
You will be in serious trouble if you do not disclose all information to the courts. For example, if you were able to work in a limited capacity and received $800 for the month, you are obliged to make this known.
Around 126 people out of every thousand receive medical attention for an injury each year, which translates to a lot of medical expenses At first glance, medical expenses seems like a straightforward concept. You are injured so you go to the hospital. You receive medical treatment and you are subsequently billed for this. The amount outlined on this bill constitutes your medical expenses, and this can be factored into your claim.
In life, of course, things are rarely this straightforward. Take a look at this breakdown for some of the medical expenses that may contribute to your personal injury settlement amount:
- Initial emergency medical care: If you were hospitalized following your injury and underwent immediate emergency treatment — for example, resetting a broken leg, or stabilization of a head injury — this will be considered your initial emergency medical care. Other costs can be included in this, including any emergency recovery or ambulance costs.
- Ongoing hospital services: Often, your treatment will not conclude after you leave the hospital following your initial emergency procedure. Instead, you may have to return to the hospital or to another facility for ongoing testing, rehabilitation, and consultation.
- Medication costs: Medications that you receive as part of your treatment — both during the initial phase and on an ongoing basis — do not come for free. In fact, their costs can quickly mount up over time, becoming extremely expensive if your treatment becomes long term. These costs can and should be factored into your settlement amount.
- Equipment costs: During your initial treatment and during your recovery, you may need to access hospital equipment and also use certain equipment pieces in your own home. This can be expensive, particularly if you need to rent the equipment out of your own pocket.
But calculating your medical expenses isn’t even as simple as just adding up all of the above. Before your final claim amount is decided upon, the following factors will also be taken into account;
- Existing conditions: There may be a point at which your personal injury and its related treatment begin to cross over with treatments you receive for your existing conditions. Your legal team might argue that the incident has exacerbated your existing symptoms. The opposing legal team, on the other hand, may argue that this treatment should not be covered by an injury settlement. These conflicting opinions can make the case difficult.
- Excessive treatments: It may be argued that you are receiving treatments that you no longer require. If the court accepts this, you will not be able to claim for any treatments delivered after the point at which they were no longer deemed necessary, even if you have already received and paid for these treatments.
- Medical opinions: It may be necessary to get a second medical opinion to prove your own case beyond doubt. Your legal team may need to fight to ensure that this cost is factored into the claim for medical expenses.
What does this mean in practice?
Let’s say your initial emergency medical treatments totaled $5,000. Then you were prescribed a course of medication at $80 for five months, totaling $400. You also needed to rent in-home medical equipment to aid your recovery, spending a total of $2,000 on this, and you spent a further $700 on physiotherapy costs. This would give you a total set of medical expenses worth $8,180.
There is no guarantee that you would receive this full $8,180, but this would be used as a starting point for the negotiations.
We all know what suffering is. We all know what pain is. Where this becomes tricky is when you need a legal definition for these often abstract concepts. Of course, an injury will cause pain and suffering; it is up to the courts to decide exactly how much pain and how much suffering the event and the injury have caused to you. Then, they must use this information to decide on a dollar amount.
This quantifying of suffering is very difficult and it may be hard for you to prove exactly how much pain and suffering you have endured. The courts may use expert testimony from medical professionals as well as precedents set by previous cases.
Generally, the courts will use this information to set a daily value on your suffering, and then multiply this by the length of time it is expected to take before you fully recover. You may have to provide further evidence during the negotiation, including witness testimonies.
What does this mean in practice?
This is a very difficult one to judge, which is why so much evidence is required in order to decide upon the final dollar amount of the settlement. Let’s say that you are involved in one of the six traffic accidents that occur every minute in the United States and suffer an injury to your neck that makes moving difficult. You provide photographs of the damage to your neck, video evidence of how difficult it is for you to move around or leave your home, and statements from colleagues and friends supporting your claim.
A medical expert will provide their own evidence and use your information to provide a recommendation to the court. The court will take all of this into account, along with precedent cases to decide on a daily dollar amount: let’s say $150 in this case. The medical expert will then recommend how long they think the recovery will last. They recommend eight weeks of recovery, totaling $8,400.
Disruption to general life is only factored in in extremely severe cases. For example, a broken arm may stop you from playing tennis, but it is likely that the damage will be gone in a few weeks and you will be back to normal, enjoying the sport you love. In this case, the court will probably not award you any money for disruption to your life, unless you missed out on a tournament that you could have won money from. This would be considered an extreme example and an exception.
If you are confined to a wheelchair for several years, or even permanently, following your accident, or if the incident causes brain damage that leads to physical or mental impairments, this will be considered to be severely disruptive to your general life. If you can no longer enjoy life the way you used to, on a permanent basis, or you can no longer do the things you once did, this will be considered a major disruption.
Of course, it can be difficult to accurately identify how much reimbursement you are due after an incident like this. You may need to provide expert testimony, photograph and video evidence, as well as witness statements that support your claim, and demonstrate to the court just how much pain and suffering you have endured.
What does this mean in practice?
In most cases, particularly regarding minor or moderate injury claims, there will be little to no settlement amount provided for disruption. If your case is extreme enough to warrant this compensation, you need to speak to a medical professional who will help your legal team prove the disruption so that the courts can provide a dollar amount of compensation.
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