Learn how to calculate the value of your personal injury claim in the Hoosier State
One of the most common questions injury victims have after an accident is:
How much is my claim worth?
It’s an important question. Without having some idea of what your claim is worth, it’s almost impossible to determine whether you should accept an insurance company’s settlement offer or hire an attorney and fight for more money.
In this article, we’ll help you learn how to generally calculate the potential value of your Indiana personal injury claim.
Types of personal injury damages in Indiana
In Indiana, there are 3 types of damages a plaintiff can recover:
- Economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for the monetary losses associated with their injuries. These damages are generally easy to calculate and include medical expenses, lost income, and property damage.
- Non-economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for the non-monetary losses associated with their injury. These damages, which include pain and suffering, are hard to calculate because they’re mostly subjective.
- Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant and are only awarded in situations where the defendant acts with malice (intent to cause harm) or gross negligence.
Read more about the types of damages available in an Indiana personal injury lawsuit.
To ensure that you’re properly compensated for your claim, you need to keep strict records of all the expenses related to your claim (medical expenses, vehicle repair costs, etc.) and the effects of the injury on your day-to-day life.
What formula is used to calculate damages?
Insurance adjusters and attorneys in Indiana often use a simple formula to arrive at a rough estimate of how much a person’s claim is worth. This formula takes into account the person’s easily-calculable economic damages and multiplies that number based on the severity of the injury to arrive at a non-economic damages estimate. Lost wages are then tacked on to arrive at a total damages estimate.
Got all that?
Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it.
Here’s the formula:
Economic damages x 1-5 (depending on the severity of the injury) +
lost income = total damages.
Here’s an example:
When we plug this information into the formula, it might look something like this:
$30,000 (for your economic damages) x 2 (because broken ribs are relatively minor injuries compared to say a traumatic brain injury) = $60,000 + $15,000 (lost wages) = $75,000 (total estimated damages).
Keep in mind that this is only a starting point. The estimate can go up or down depending on several factors, including:
- Quality of the evidence
- Length of recovery
- Permanence of the injury
- How the injury impacts the plaintiff’s daily life
- Plaintiff’s likeability
Should I accept a settlement offer from the insurance company?
If you suffered a minor injury and receive a fair settlement offer (based on your estimate using the formula above), accepting a settlement offer may be in your best interest.
However, if your injury is even remotely serious, you should strongly consider meeting with a personal injury attorney near you to determine if the settlement offer is truly fair.
Wondering why you need to be cautious if the settlement offer seems fair?
When you accept a settlement offer, the insurance company will typically 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.
Consider the following example:
Unfortunately, a month after the accident, Jane begins to have trouble sleeping and experiences frequent headaches. She sees her doctor who diagnoses her with a traumatic brain injury and explains that she’s going to need emergency surgery to treat the swelling of her brain. What’s more, she’s likely to experience headaches and memory problems for the rest of her life.
Realizing that her truck accident was more serious than she initially thought, she meets with an attorney to discuss the possibility of filing another insurance claim or suing the truck driver personally. The lawyer reviews the release agreement and informs her that she has given up all her rights when she signed the agreement.
Most attorneys offer free initial consultations. What’s more, personal injury attorneys generally handle cases on a contingency basis (meaning they don’t get paid if you don’t get paid). As a consequence, most personal injury attorneys will give you an honest opinion about whether it’s wise to accept a settlement offer or fight for more compensation.
What about punitive damages?
Punitive damages are financial compensation that may be awarded to a plaintiff in addition to compensatory damages. There are 2 primary purposes for awarding punitive damages:
- To punish the defendant for outrageous misconduct
- To deter others from engaging in similar misconduct
But punitive damages are generally NOT awarded in personal injury cases. In Indiana, 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.
Factors that can reduce or limit your injury settlement
There are 3 factors that an insurance company or defendant will immediately consider in an attempt to reduce or deny your claim.
1. Your percentage of fault
Indiana follows the modified comparative negligence rule. This means that the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover is reduced by their percentage of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is more than 50% at fault, the plaintiff is prohibited from recovering any damages.
Let’s say that while you were crossing the road, you were struck by a drunk driver. However, 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 Indiana’s modified comparative negligence rule, you would only be able to recover 80% of your total damages from the defendant.
2. Failure to mitigate damages
In Indiana, plaintiffs have an obligation to mitigate their damages. This means 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.
Let’s say you’re injured in a car accident and your doctor provides you with treatment but also recommends that you not return to your physically-demanding job for 2 weeks. You decide to ignore your doctor’s instructions and return to work anyway. As a result, the defendant is able to show that had you followed the doctor’s orders, it would have only taken you 2 weeks to recover instead of 6 weeks.
Under the defense of failure to mitigate, you likely won’t receive damages for the 4 extra weeks it took you to recover because those damages could have been avoided by listening to your doctor.
3. Damage caps
Damage caps are laws that limit the amount of damages that may be awarded in a case. Fortunately, most types of personal injury cases in Indiana won’t be limited by damage caps.
In Indiana, only the following cases are impacted:
- Medical malpractice claims are capped at $1.8 million.
- Claims brought against the government are capped at $700,000.
- Wrongful death claims are capped at $300,000 for plaintiffs who are unmarried and 23 years of age or older.
Still not sure how much your claim is worth? Use our free directory to locate an Indiana attorney who can help you understand the value of your claim and weigh your options.