Adding up your damages to find your injury settlement value with a personal injury claim calculator
Nothing makes an accident seem less real than seeing it reduced to numbers on a page. But that’s exactly what we need to do to figure out if a legal case is worth pursuing. We do that with the help of a personal injury calculator.
Despite its inherently surreal nature, it's the second question that people ask when they meet with an attorney. The first is, "Do you think I have a case?" Then, it's, "How much do you think my case is worth?"
For liability cases, the basic rule is that the settlement should roughly equal the extent and intensity of injuries. This sounds easy enough, but it is hopelessly vague. Using the most common type of accident as an example (motor vehicle accidents), insurance actuaries reveal an average award of $24,000 per case in 2013.
How do we reach that number? What's involved?
Most law firms add together time off work plus medical costs and multiply that value by four to reach an estimate for settlement discussions.
Others provide estimate calculators for clients to use on their websites, fueling wild dreams of fully-funded college education and trips to Vegas. Let's dive deeper into that calculator and see how attorneys reach those numbers.
The personal injury calculator
The calculator is an easy way to get a ballpark estimate of what your case is worth. This way you can get an idea of how attorneys should be responding to you.
There are a few types of damages for which you could potentially recover:
- Economic (special) damages – costs of medical treatment, estimated future medical treatment, lost earnings, future lost earnings, property damage, out-of-pocket expenses
- Non-economic (general) damages – pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience, loss of consortium (companionship of husband, wife or partner), loss of enjoyment of life
- Punitive damages – punishment
In theory you could use a "per diem" rate and calculate the number of days you've been in pain and try to multiply that by the number of days you actually suffer pain, but if you end up being in pain the rest of your life, that won't work.
This is when attorneys use what they call "the multiplier." An insurance adjuster will add up special damages and multiply that by a number between 1.5 and 5. That number will be low or high depending on specific facts in your case:
- Severity of your injuries
- Medical treatment you have received to date
- How much treatment you anticipate needing in the future
- Prognosis (are you expected to recover?)
- Permanent or long-lasting effects?
- Impact on your daily life
You, of course, will argue for a higher multiplier, while the adjuster will argue for a lower multiplier. Sometimes the ceiling (5) will be increased depending on the severity of injuries, but that is for extraordinary cases in which there is permanent disability, recovery is prolonged, the injuries are immediately apparent and so on.
When a value for general damages is calculated, that is added to the rest of the damages for an estimated settlement value. This total number is what your attorney will argue for during negotiations, though he will likely pad it and give himself room in case things go south.
Insurance policy limits
Quite possibly the most crushing aspect of personal injury lawsuits and claims is the insurance policy limit. You might think that your claim is worth more than a million bucks, and then your attorney sits you down and says that the other driver was underinsured – the limit is only $20,000, which barely covers your medical bills. Once your attorney's paid and the fees are reimbursed, you're going to end up with chump change. You're in so much pain, and it was all for nothing.
You do have the option to file a court case against the driver for negligence, but keep in mind that an underinsured or uninsured motorist is probably not going to have much in assets. What are you going to collect against? That person can't exactly send you part of a paycheck for the rest of their lives. Sometimes it's better to accept what's happened and focus on healing yourself.
Calculating damages depends on where the accident happened and your degree of fault
Your geographic location also could put a damper on those lovely dreams. There are three basic types of contributory or comparative negligence rules, which are as follows:
Pure comparative negligence: Your settlement would be reduced by your percentage of fault, with no limits:
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
Modified comparative negligence: Your settlement would be reduced by your degree of fault. If that is greater than 50%, you can't win anything.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Contributory negligence: This is the harshest of the three. You can't win any damages if you're found to even be 1% at fault. If you're found to be even the tiniest bit careless, your settlement will be zero.
Best ways to keep track of expenses
The best way to get the most out of a settlement is to be proactive. Take charge of your own case and know where your money is going – don't just leave it to your attorney to figure out.
The best way to do this is to make an Excel spreadsheet with columns designating the payee, the amount, the dates that bills are due and whether they are paid (and by whom – you or your insurance company, because you'll need to track whether you have been reimbursed). Then you can also scan in the relevant bills so that everything is kept in a file on your computer. That way, everything can be emailed to your attorney, and you also have a backup on your computer. We have a handy spreadsheet for your reference here, which will help you get started.
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