After an accident or injury, your mind might be swirling with questions. First, you’re probably concerned about your physical recovery — as you should be. You should never delay medical treatment because some injuries or conditions can become worse if left untreated.
Second, you might be wondering how you’re going to pay for your treatment and related expenses. Especially if you’re unable to work because of your injury and you have medical bills showing up in the mail, you want to figure out what this accident is going to cost you in the long run.
Third, maybe your accident has left you with emotional scars, physical pain, loss of enjoyment of life activities, or other mental distress. Shouldn’t there be some kind of compensation for those things, too?
Yes. You can be compensated for ALL of these things — medical treatment for physical injuries, lost wages, and pain and suffering or other mental anguish.
But how much is it all worth?
You can recover compensatory and punitive damages from a North Carolina accident.
Compensatory damages are intended to restore you to the financial position you’d be in if the accident hadn’t happened.
Any expenses related to your injury should be covered. This includes medical treatment like hospital visits, doctor appointments, prescription medications, assistive devices, therapy, surgical procedures, and so on.
If the accident left you with injuries that resulted in a disability that prevents you from returning to the same job you had prior to the accident, you can be compensated for the difference in wages if you’re now earning less. If you won’t be able to work again because of your injury, you can recover damages for lost wages for the remainder of your lifetime.
If the accident involved damage or destruction to your home, vehicle, or other property, that gets counted, too. You’re entitled to recover the fair market value of the lost property.
If you were involved in a car accident, for example, the insurance company that’s responsible for covering damages will look at the value of your car prior to the accident. It will estimate how much the car is worth based on its own analysis or an authoritative source like the Kelley Blue Book. Value is based on your car’s make, model, and age.
If your car was a 10-year-old mid-range sedan, you’d receive the amount that you could reasonably expect to get if you had sold it privately before the wreck. You can’t expect to receive the same amount for a 10-year-old mid-range sedan that you would for a brand-new luxury SUV.
For example, if the accident left you permanently using a wheelchair, you might need to modify your home in order to make accommodations. There could also be expenses for transportation, medical records, child care, and other services (household cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc.) that you’re paying for if the injury has resulted in your being unable to carry out these tasks.
It’s harder to calculate the value of your pain and suffering because it doesn’t have a specific monetary value. Your non-economic damages include:
Punitive damages are awarded when the court finds that the defendant acted maliciously or their negligence was so outstandingly bad or shocking that they deserve even more punishment than losing a lawsuit. If this is the case, the court will award punitive damages that are separate from the compensatory damages in an amount that’s determined based on the wrongfulness of the defendant’s conduct.
There are 2 main considerations when calculating the value of your claim:
Put simply, if you’ve already received medical treatment and returned to work, you might have a fixed amount that the accident cost you. You can gather receipts and bills related to the injury and make a tally of your expenses.
You might not know how much to allocate for future medical treatment or lost wages. A good lawyer will consult medical experts, financial professionals, and actuaries (professionals who measure risk and uncertainty, along with life expectancy) in order to determine what your future costs could be.
In addition, the intangibles — your pain and suffering and other emotional distress — will be difficult for you to calculate on your own since they don’t come with bills or receipts.
In general, North Carolina will base a pain and suffering settlement or award on these factors:
For each of these considerations, the more serious the physical injuries are, the more the pain and suffering will be. But it’s still difficult to put a dollar value on pain and suffering.
There are 2 ways the courts calculate non-economic damages like pain and suffering:
Pain and suffering is sometimes calculated on a scale from 1 to 5. If your injuries are very severe, like spinal cord damage, brain injury, an amputation or disfigurement, you’d multiply the amount of your economic losses by a higher number like 4 or 5. If your injuries are likely to fully heal or are less serious, you might multiply by 1 or 2.
Your lawyer will negotiate the multiplier with the insurance company or defendant’s counsel.
If you’ve made a full recovery (or are expected to), you can calculate pain and suffering damages by multiplying a set amount by the number of days in which you suffered. In other words, your lawyer might negotiate that your pain and suffering cost you $100 per day for your recovery time, which was 3 months. That would mean you’d expect to receive about $9,000 in damages for pain and suffering.
It can be hard to establish how much pain and suffering cost. Here are 5 steps you can take to be compensated fairly:
You probably won’t.
Correctly calculating the value of your claim is one of the most important and challenging 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 your expenses.
Once you’ve accepted a settlement offer, whether it’s from an insurance company or directly from the defendant, your legal remedy for your injury is complete. The purpose of a settlement is to allow the defendant to pay an agreed-upon amount for your losses and then know that they’re no longer able to be sued for the injury.
So even if you came up with a settlement figure yourself and the defendant agreed to it, you still might come up short.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to present your lawyer with all the documents, bills, medical records, receipts, and other evidence related to your claim in order to help them to help you come up with a claim value.
And, remember this:
Getting a lawyer doesn’t mean you can’t accept an insurance company’s settlement offer. Attorneys work with insurance companies all the time. You can let the insurance company know you have a lawyer reviewing your claim and have your lawyer manage the negotiations. You might be surprised at how this information changes the insurance company or defendant’s offer.