Calculating injury settlement value in Arizona
In Arizona, as in every state, it’s a good idea to add up the costs associated with your accident or injury so that you can ensure you receive a fair settlement. Taking the time to add up these costs also provides you with an opportunity to think about and gather the evidence you’ll need to support your claim.
So let’s go ahead and crunch the numbers.
What’s included in my injury calculation?
In Arizona, there are two basic types of damages available in a personal injury lawsuit:
- Economic damages (sometimes called “special damages”)
- Non-economic damages (sometimes called “general damages”)
Let’s take a closer look at each type of damages.
Economic damages are intended to compensate you for the monetary losses associated with your injury. These losses might include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost income due to missing work
- Loss of property or property damage
- Any other out-of-pocket expenses you incurred due to your injury
Economic damages are fairly objective and easy to calculate. The hardest (and most important) part is keeping track of your expenses. This means saving all of your medical bills and receipts.
Keep in mind that you also need to include future expenses in this calculation. This includes an amount reflecting future missed time at work due to the injury and also future medical expenses (such as future surgeries, physical therapy sessions, and checkups).
Future damages require some speculation and are more difficult to prove. An experienced Arizona attorney can help you calculate your future damages as well as gather the evidence you need to support a claim for future economic damages.
Non-economic damages are designed to compensate you for the non-monetary consequences of your injury. For example, the subjective pain and suffering that you experience as a result of your accident. General damages vary from case to case, but common examples include:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
Unsurprisingly, non-economic damages are more difficult to prove. As with economic damages, keeping good records can help.
Many insurance adjusters and attorneys in Arizona use a formula to arrive at a rough estimate of how much a person’s claim is worth. Here’s the formula:
Special damages x 1-5 (depending on the severity of the injury)
+ lost income = damages.
For example, let’s say you break your leg in a car accident and incur $20,000 in medical bills. Let’s also say that, because of your injury, you miss 3 months of work for which you would have been paid $15,000. Your formula might look like this:
$20,000 x 1.5 (because a broken leg is considered to be a relatively minor injury compared to say a spine or brain injury) = $30,000 + $15,000 = $45,000 (total estimated damages).
Keep in mind that this is only a starting point. The amount can go up or down depending on a number of factors, including:
- Quality of your medical evidence
- Length of your recovery
- Permanence of your injury
- How your injuries impact your day-to-day life
What about punitive damages?
Punitive damages are money damages that may be awarded to a plaintiff in addition to compensatory damages. There are two primary purposes for awarding punitive damages:
- To punish the defendant for outrageous misconduct
- To deter others from engaging in similar misconduct
Punitive damages are generally not awarded in personal injury cases. In Arizona, punitive damages are only available if the defendant’s conduct was:
- Grossly negligent: conduct that is extreme or reckless as opposed to careless or unreasonable, or
- Willful and wanton: conduct that is intended to cause harm.
Punitive damages are difficult to prove. In Arizona, a plaintiff seeking punitive damages must have “clear and convincing evidence” of the defendant’s gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct. This is a higher level of proof than that required to prove negligence.
Are there any factors that can reduce or limit my claim?
The Arizona Constitution prohibits placing limitations (sometimes called “damage caps”) on the amount of money that can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit. However, there are a number of factors that could reduce a plaintiff’s personal injury award. The two biggest factors are:
- The plaintiff’s own negligence
- The plaintiff’s failure to mitigate their damages
Let’s look at these two factors more closely.
The plaintiff’s own negligence
In Arizona, the amount of damages you can recover is reduced by a percentage that reflects your degree of fault – no matter how small that percentage may be. This is called the “pure comparative fault” theory.
Let’s say that while you were crossing the road, you were struck by a driver who was busy looking at their cell phone. Let’s also say that the pedestrian walk signal said “do not cross” when you crossed the road. A jury might find the driver 80% at fault for the accident, while also finding you 20% at fault for the accident.
Under the pure comparative fault theory, you would only be able to recover 80% of your total damages from the defendant.
Failure to mitigate damages
In Arizona, plaintiffs have an obligation to mitigate their damages. This means that plaintiffs who have been wronged must make reasonable efforts to limit the resulting harm. Failing to do so might preclude the recovery of damages that could have been avoided through reasonable efforts.
Say you’re injured in a car accident and your doctor provides you with treatment but also recommends 3 weeks of physical therapy. You decide to ignore your doctor’s instructions and do some light exercises at home instead. As a result, the defendant is able to show that — had you done the physical therapy — it would have taken you 3 weeks to recover instead of 6.
Under the defense of failure to mitigate, you likely won’t receive damages for the 3 extra weeks it took you to recover because those damages could have been avoided by listening to your doctor.
If you believe you’re ready to file a claim, consider contacting an experienced Arizona attorney first. Your attorney can help you sort out the details of your accident and make sure you receive all the compensation you deserve.