How much is your personal injury claim worth?
Whether you’re wondering if you need to hire an attorney, deciding whether to accept a settlement offer from an insurance company or filing a lawsuit, you probably want to know how much your personal injury claim is worth.
The value of a personal injury claim varies widely depending on a number of factors. There is, however, a simple formula that lawyers and insurance adjusters use to estimate the value of a claim.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how much your injury claim might be worth, including the factors that can increase or decrease your award.
Types of damages in Alabama personal injury lawsuits
To understand the value of your claim, you’ll need to understand the types of damages that are available in an Alabama personal injury case.
There are 3 types of damages available in Alabama:
- Economic damages
- Non-economic damages
- Punitive damages
Let’s take a look at each of these.
Sometimes called “special damages,” economic damages are intended to compensate you for the objectively verifiable monetary losses that result from your injuries.
Examples of economic damages include:
- Medical expenses. In Alabama, you’re entitled to reimbursement for all the “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses you incur as a result of your injury (for example, hospital stays, emergency room visits, physical therapy sessions, surgeries, prescriptions and mental health counseling).
- Lost income. In Alabama, you’re entitled to reimbursement for any lost income that results from your injury. For example, if you miss a month of work because you couldn’t walk without pain after your accident, you’re entitled to the wages you would have earned during that month. What’s more, if your injury results in a disability that reduces your future ability to earn, you’re entitled to compensation for that loss.
- Property damages. If your personal property (such as your car) is damaged in an accident, you’re entitled to reimbursement for the cost of replacing or repairing that property.
Sometimes called “general damages,” non-economic damages are intended to compensate you for the subjective, non-monetary losses caused by your injury.
Non-economic damages include:
- Mental distress. Recovery for damages for mental suffering is permitted in Alabama so long as the mental suffering is accompanied by a physical injury.
- Physical pain and suffering. You’re entitled to compensation for the past and future physical pain and suffering that you experience as a result of your injuries.
- Loss of consortium. In Alabama, you can make a claim for loss of consortium of a spouse who has been physically injured. “Consortium” is defined as the right to your spouse’s “company, fellowship, cooperation, and assistance in the marital relationship as a partner in the family unit.”
Finally, punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their actions and deter similar conduct in the future.
In Alabama, punitive damages are only awarded in 2 types of cases:
- Wrongful death cases
- Tort actions in which the defendant deliberately engaged in oppression, fraud, wantonness or malice
The Alabama Constitution prohibits most types of damage caps.
Currently, there are only 2 damage caps in Alabama:
- Compensatory damages in wrongful death cases. Alabama is the only state in the country that denies recovery for compensatory damages (economic and non-economic damages) in wrongful death claims. Only punitive damages are recoverable in wrongful death cases.
- Punitive damages in civil actions. Punitive damages in civil actions that do not involve physical injury cannot exceed 3 times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. With respect to civil actions that do involve physical injury, punitive damages cannot exceed 3 times the amount of compensatory damages or $1.5 million, whichever is greater.
How can I estimate the value of my personal injury claim?
The value of a personal injury claim varies widely depending on a number of factors. Nevertheless, lawyers and insurance adjusters must quickly reach a rough estimate of a claim’s value. To accomplish this, most lawyers and insurance adjusters use the following injury claim calculator formula:
Economic damages x 1-5 (depending on the severity of the injury) + lost income
Let’s take a look at an example:
Jason was involved in a terrible accident in Mobile, Alabama. The accident occurred when Laura ran a red light and crashed into Jason.
Jason, who is 58-years-old, suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the accident. Due to the brain injury, he won’t be able to return to his job where he made $50,000 per year. Jason had planned to work for another 7 years. What’s more, Jason has already incurred $100,000 in medical expenses, and doctors estimate that he will incur another $1 million in medical expenses (primarily for in-home care) over the course of his life.
Jason’s son meets with an attorney on Jason’s behalf. To get a quick estimate of Jason’s claim value, the attorney plugs the numbers into a formula:
$1.1 million (economic damages) x 5 (the injury was extremely severe) + $350,000 (lost income) = $5.85 million
The lawyer tells Jason’s son that Jason’s case is worth $5.85 million but cautions him that the actual award could be more or less depending on a number of factors.
Factors that can impact the value of your injury claim
There are a number of factors that can impact the value of your personal injury claim. Some of the most important factors include:
- Quality of the evidence that supports your claim
- Seriousness and permanence of your injury
- Your age, gender and pre-accident occupation
- Likability of the parties involved
- The judge and jury pool
On top of the factors listed above, it’s important to keep in mind that Alabama is a pure contributory negligence state. This means that if a plaintiff is even 1% responsible for causing their injuries, they’re barred from recovering ANY damages.
Let’s look at an example:
Samantha is walking on the sidewalk in Tuscaloosa when she sees her friend on the other side of the road. Without looking, Samantha darts across the road to meet her friend.
At the same time, Gregory is driving down the road and texting. Because he’s looking at his phone, he doesn’t see Samantha and hits her with his car.
Samantha sues Gregory for $100,000.
A jury finds that Gregory was 85 percent responsible for the accident (for texting and driving) and Samantha was 15 percent responsible for the accident (for darting into the road).
Under Alabama’s pure contributory negligence law, Samantha is barred from recovering ANY damages.
The top 3 things you can do to increase your claim value
Although many factors that may impact your claim value are beyond your control, there are a few things you can do to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve. Here are the top 3:
- Seek medical treatment immediately. Alabama requires plaintiffs to take steps to minimize (or mitigate) the harm they suffer. If a plaintiff fails to mitigate their damages, their award may be reduced. The best way to mitigate your damages is to seek medical attention immediately and follow your doctor’s orders after an accident. As a bonus, insurance companies, jurors and judges tend to find plaintiffs more believable if they sought medical attention immediately after their accident.
- Collect and preserve all evidence. The moments following an accident can be chaotic. Nevertheless, the immediate aftermath of a crash is the best time to collect and preserve evidence. If it’s safe to do so, take photographs of the accident scene and any damages. It’s also a good idea to gather contact information for any witnesses.
- Keep good records. One of the most important things you can do to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve is to keep meticulous records of how your injury impacts your life. We recommend keeping copies of all medical records and keeping a pain journal.
Do I need a lawyer?
If you’re involved in a minor accident that doesn’t result in injuries requiring medical attention, you may not need to hire a lawyer. However, if you suffer a serious physical injury and your goal is to maximize the value of your claim, hiring an experienced personal injury attorney is wise.
Fortunately, most personal injury attorneys offer free consultations. As a result, you can meet with an attorney to discuss the value of your claim at no cost.
Should I accept a settlement offer from the insurance company?
If you suffered a minor injury and received a reasonable settlement offer (based on your estimate using the formula above), accepting the settlement offer may be in your best interest. The benefit of accepting a settlement offer is that you avoid the headache of litigation and receive the funds more quickly.
However, if your injury is even remotely serious, you should strongly consider meeting with a personal injury attorney to determine if the settlement offer is fair.
When you accept a settlement offer, the insurance company will require you to sign a release agreement. This agreement is a legally binding document whereby you agree to give up the right to any future claims against the insured party. As a result, you’re out of luck if you accept a settlement offer and later find out your injury is more serious than you originally thought.
Consider using our free online legal directory to find an experienced Alabama personal injury attorney near you to discuss your claim value and any settlement offers.