If you’ve been injured in an accident, you probably have a variety of concerns ahead of you.
If your injury requires extensive medical treatment, one of your first concerns is probably how you’re going to pay for all of it. The medical bills can make your head spin, so you want to figure out a plan to deal with the expenses associated with your injury.
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is: It depends.
Before you accept any settlement offer, you should have an understanding of what the value of your claim is, and that can be tricky to determine.
If your injury was fairly minor and you’ve received all the treatment you’re going to require, you can likely calculate the value of your claim.
You’d add up the costs for:
If you believe that you’ve already experienced all the financial loss that’s anticipated from the injury, you could accept a settlement in that amount from the insurance company.
If that’s the case, you need to find a personal injury lawyer who can help calculate your future costs in addition to the ones that you’ve already counted. Don’t accept a settlement from the insurance company if you’re not sure about future expenses, or if you think it’s not enough. Once you sign an agreement to a settlement, you can’t go back for more.
Damages are the amount of money the court awards a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit.
If your injury is the result of someone else’s fault, negligence, or wrongful behavior, a personal injury lawsuit might be your best method to seek financial recovery.
One of your determining factors for whether or not to file a lawsuit might be how much you stand to gain in damages.
When you consult a personal injury lawyer, they’ll tell you that the objective is to reach a settlement with the defendant without going to trial. A trial is time-consuming, expensive, and can be emotionally draining. It’s a last resort if the parties can’t agree on whether the defendant bears liability or how much the case is worth.
Correctly calculating the amount of your claim is one of the most important parts of the process. If you overstate your claim (ask for too much), the opposing party will believe that you’re not motivated to settle.
If you ask for too little, you shortchange yourself and aren’t going to get the amount you need to cover all of your expenses.
All damages fall into two categories: compensatory and punitive.
Whether your injury was caused by a car accident, truck accident, slip-and-fall incident, or something entirely different, someone’s insurance is probably involved — either yours or the other party’s.
The insurance adjuster will use a formula to determine what amount to offer you as a settlement.
They’ll begin by adding the costs of the medical expenses, lost property, wage loss, and whatever else has a specific dollar amount, which are called special damages.
Then, they’ll look at general damages, which are losses that don’t have a specific cost attached.
Special damages are economic, and general damages are non-economic.
An insurance company’s goal is to pay out the least that it can on any claim. That’s how insurers make money. They can’t profit if they’re paying generous sums for every claim that’s reported. Instead, they look very closely at what’s included in your claim and try to give you exactly what they must in order to fulfill their obligation, and not a penny more.
Sometimes, they try to offer even less than what your claim is worth. If you think your insurance company is not meeting the terms of its obligation to you, it could be a case of insurance bad faith.
Some states have a specific formula for determining what your pain and suffering is worth. California doesn’t have a clear method, but instead has two formula options:
If you’re the kind of person who likes to look at everything in a mathematical way, you might be out of luck in coming to a true calculation for what an award for pain and suffering could be. That’s because there are several unpredictable variables that can drastically change the outcome of your case.
For example, if your lawsuit goes to trial, the decision whether to award damages for non-economic injury, and how much they’ll be, will be up to the judge or jury.
Here are some ways that these damages are decided:
Again, these are all subjective criteria, but they’re the reason why it’s important to hire a personal injury lawyer who has experience recovering awards for the type and size of your claim.
Just when you thought you had it all figured out, California throws a curveball: comparative fault.
If you’re calculating the value of a claim, it’s crucial to take into consideration whether your liability played any role in the accident or incident.
Even if the accident wasn’t your fault, California courts will evaluate whether you could’ve done anything to avoid or prevent the injury.
For example, say you were in a car accident. Although the other driver caused the accident, if it’s possible that you could’ve swerved or braked a moment sooner to prevent or avoid the collision, you could be found to have a small percentage of fault.
If that’s the case, the court would reduce your damage award based on that percentage. So if you’re found 5% at fault, the award is reduced by 5%.
That’s a question for your lawyer.
The general rule of thumb is that big injuries equal a big damage award. Clearly, there are a number of factors involved in calculating the value of your claim. If you want to try to establish a rough estimate, start by calculating the actual costs for your medical treatment, lost wages, and other therapies and services that you’ve paid for or know you’ll require in the future.
Next, find a personal injury lawyer who can help calculate future costs that might be uncertain, non-economic damages, and possible punitive damages. Look for a California personal injury lawyer who is experienced in handling lawsuits like yours, and also who has access to financial and actuarial experts to help calculate future expenses based on your life expectancy and level of need in order to get the recovery you deserve.