There’s an online calculator for almost anything — mortgage, student loans, debt payoffs, credit card balance transfers, auto loans or leases, home equity, retirement income, life insurance, payroll tax deductions, and more.
There are also calculators for how much you can expect to receive in damages after a car accident. Estimating damages after a car accident presents a unique set of challenges unlike other types of calculators because the outcome of a personal injury claim might depend on the decisions of a judge, jury, or insurance company.
Still, if you’ve been in a car accident and you need to make a claim, you might want to make an educated guess about how much you’re entitled to in damages so that you know if it’s worth pursuing your claim.
The general premise of tort law is to make a plaintiff whole. In other words, if you’re injured in an accident, you’re entitled to be restored to the financial condition you would be in if the accident never happened.
But how do you know how much your claim is worth?
Usually, if you’re involved in an accident, you make a claim to your insurance company and then the insurer responds with a proposed settlement. But you can’t just accept it at face-value without having at least some idea of what your claim is actually worth.
An insurance company will often try to lowball a settlement.
This is because your insurance company is a business. We like to believe that it exists to take care of us, but the truth is that it’s a corporation with a bottom line to protect and profit to earn. You pay a premium for your insurance coverage, and both you and your insurer hope you never need to use it. But when you do need to use insurance, the less the insurance company pays out, the more profit it earns.
It’s wise to have a general idea of what your damages might cost before you are offered a settlement so that you know if you’re being lowballed.
If your accident involves property damage to your vehicle but no personal injury, it might be pretty straightforward. You’d get a quote for the cost of repair from a repair shop authorized by your insurance company, and the insurance company will usually pay for the cost to repair your car.
Medical treatment on the other hand, especially when it’s ongoing or treatment for a serious injury, can be more complicated.
Elements of a personal injury claim
There are 3 main elements to making a claim:
- Injury. In order to recover from an accident, you must have suffered an injury that cost you money. For example, if you were in an accident and suffered mild whiplash symptoms but didn’t require treatment, there’s no cost associated with your treatment.
- Damages. There are economic and non-economic damages. These are the costs associated with the accident, whether for actual costs (economic) or for intangibles like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life (non-economic).
- Fault. Florida follows a pure comparative negligence rule of law. If you had any responsibility for the accident (even if you’re not considered to be the person at fault), your damages are reduced according to your percentage of fault.
How do you calculate the true value of your car accident claim?
In determining the value of a claim, the first question is the economic value of your losses (or the costs you incurred as a result of the accident). In other words, how much money have you spent in order to take care of your medical needs and lost or damaged property because of the accident?
But it’s not only about what the accident has cost you so far.
It’s important to look at the overall value of the claim based on what you’ve already spent and what you’ll spend in the future.
That’s where it gets complicated.
You might already have medical bills, and you might already know how much you’ve lost in earnings from time out of work. But what about future lost earnings (or earning capacity) and ongoing medical treatment? That’s where you might want to use an online car accident calculator.
Here’s what a car accident settlement calculation should include:
Medical expenses (past and future)
This could include doctor or hospital visits, surgery, prescription medication, rehabilitative therapy, assistive devices, or any other items or services related to your recovery.
The same treatments and related expenses for your immediate recovery can be compensated for future related needs. If your injuries from the accident will require future surgeries or ongoing treatment, that should all be factored into the total amount of damages.
In a car accident, this likely applies to repair or replacement of your vehicle. However, any other property of yours that was damaged (such as your phone or other technology) can be compensable.
Lost earnings (past and future)
If the accident prevented you from going to work during your recovery, you can receive compensation for your lost wages. You can also claim compensation for lost future earnings or earning capacity.
If the accident leaves you with a disability that restricts or prevents you from returning to the job or type of work you did before the accident, you might not be able to earn as much as you did before. A lawyer can help you determine how much you would have earned during your lifetime had the accident not happened, as opposed to what you’re likely to earn after the accident.
Non-economic and punitive damages (“multiplier”)
After a serious accident, you might be entitled to claim damages for pain and suffering and (sometimes) punitive damages. These costs are more difficult to calculate because there isn’t a specific dollar amount for these losses.
Punitive damages are assessed in situations when the behavior that caused your injury was so reckless or malicious that the court seeks to punish the defendant for their actions. Often, this is intended as a deterrent to the defendant or to others so that they won’t repeat the behavior. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to the amount the plaintiff would normally recover for their injuries.
In order to calculate these figures, most lawyers use a multiplier method. The lawyers look at these factors:
- Severity of injuries
- Medical treatment costs
- Future medical treatment and prognosis
- Ongoing or permanent physical effects
- Impact on your daily life
Depending on how severe and long-lasting your injuries are, the lawyers will then multiply the costs by a number between 1.5 and 5. The result would be the amount you could potentially receive for punitive damages.
Is an online car accident settlement calculator accurate?
The reason why online calculators are helpful for things like mortgages and loans is because they involve fixed amounts and you know ahead of time exactly what needs to be included. For example, if you know how much a house costs and how much money you have as a down payment, your only variable is how much interest you’re going to pay on your mortgage.
But a car accident has many more variables.
Even if you’re sure you have an accurate calculation of your current costs, you probably aren’t entirely sure of your future expenses related to the accident. Only a lawyer can tell you if you’re likely to receive damages for pain and suffering, loss of consortium, other emotional distress, or punitive damages based on their experience and knowledge about past cases like yours.
The best way to find out what your car accident claim is worth is to consult a personal injury lawyer near you who can accurately assess your current and future needs and help you determine what a fair settlement would be. If you’ve been in a car accident, skip the online calculators and call a professional!