A lawyer can consult accountants, actuaries, medical experts, and other professionals to help calculate the value of what you’ve lost.
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?
What types of damages can you recover after an accident?
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.
Pain and suffering
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:
- Emotional distress, including fear, anxiety, insomnia, sleep disturbances, and other conditions related to the injury.
- Loss of enjoyment of life activities. Perhaps your main hobby before the accident was playing in a basketball league... or coaching your child’s sports team. Or you played the violin, or maybe you were an avid gardener or painter. Whatever it is — it was a part of your life that you’ve lost and you can be compensated for that.
- Loss of consortium is a secondary claim made by a family member of someone who was severely injured or who died in an accident. If you’ve lost a loved one’s companionship, love, affection, or ability to participate in household responsibilities and child-rearing, that’s part of a loss of consortium claim.
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.
How to calculate the value of your damages
There are 2 main considerations when calculating the value of your claim:
- Billed or lost financial costs
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.
If your expenses will extend into the future, it’s best to call a North Carolina lawyer for assistance figuring out what those costs will be.
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:
- Severity of the injury
- Effect on your daily life
- How the injuries affect your mental health and well-being
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.
How insurance companies handle the value of a claim
There are a few things to know when it comes to handling your (or another person’s) insurance company.
First, your insurance company isn’t your advocate or ally. An insurance company is a private, for-profit business. It exists to make money for its shareholders. Although insurance is necessary and beneficial, the insurance company isn’t looking out for your best interests — it’s looking out for its own.
The objective of the insurance adjuster is to settle a claim at the lowest possible cost to the insurance company. This is how it makes a profit. The adjuster is going to try to settle for the least amount that you’re willing to accept. If you’re not sure of the value of your claim, it’s easy to get shortchanged and accept a settlement that’s less than what you deserve. And then, if you run out of money or discover that it doesn’t actually cover all of the expenses from the accident, there’s nothing more you can do.
Second, insurance covers medical treatment and lost wages. It won’t cover emotional distress or anguish. If your accident was severe and you think you’re entitled to these kinds of damages, you’d need to file a lawsuit to recover.
Your insurance adjuster might try to downplay what treatment you need or minimize how serious the accident was. Adjusters aren’t doctors and their perceptions of your condition and medical treatment shouldn’t be a substitute for the opinion or diagnosis of a medical professional.
By contrast, your lawyer works for YOU. Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis, which means they don’t get paid until you’ve recovered damages, and their payment is a percentage of your recovery. It’s your lawyer’s job and ethical responsibility to present your case in a way that’s most favorable to you.
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.
Per diem method
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.
Tips for maximizing the value of your injury claim
It can be hard to establish how much pain and suffering cost. Here are 5 steps you can take to be compensated fairly:
- Keep a record of any prescription pain medicine you’ve taken for your accident-related injury. Maintain a log of how frequently you take it and how much you take. This will help to establish the amount of physical pain you’ve experienced.
- Have your primary care physician (or any doctor you’re seeing after the accident) document any mental health issues you’re experiencing.
- Get a referral to a mental health professional like a psychotherapist or psychiatrist.
- Maintain records of any prescription antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication you take for emotional distress.
- Keep a journal. Write down your physical pain and emotional state each day.
Post-Accident Journal Form
Sample accident journal/diary to help you document the effect on your daily life
Download in PDF format
Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
Download in PDF format
How will I know if my calculations are correct?
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.
Your lawyer is your best resource for coming up with a viable and reasonable claim value.
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.
If you need to find a North Carolina attorney, you can use the Enjuris law firm directory to locate a lawyer near you who’s best suited to your case.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.