Learn how to calculate the value of your accident claim
Nobody can tell you exactly what damages you’ll be awarded if you file a personal injury lawsuit. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to have a general sense of the value of your claim so you can answer important questions such as:
- Should I file a lawsuit?
- Should I hire an attorney?
- Should I accept a settlement offer?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the formula attorneys and insurance companies use to estimate the value of a personal injury claim, as well as the major factors that can impact the value of your claim in South Carolina.
What types of damages are included in my South Carolina claim calculation?
In South Carolina, 3 types of damages must be considered when calculating the value of your claim:
- Economic damages are intended to compensate you for the monetary losses caused by your accident. Economic damages include medical expenses, wage losses, and property damage.
- Non-economic damages are intended to compensate you for the non-monetary losses caused by your accident. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium.
- Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and deter future bad behavior. Punitive damages are only available in certain types of cases.
The formula for calculating damages in South Carolina
Attorneys and insurance companies need a way to quickly assess the potential value of a claim. Here’s the formula they use:
Let’s look at an example so you can see how this formula works:
As a result of her fall, Dorothy incurred $100,000 in medical expenses. What’s more, she’ll require future in-home care estimated at $500,000. Dorothy works part-time at a library making $1,000 per month. Though she planned to work for another year, she’s no longer able to work because of her injury and will miss out on $12,000.
Dorothy and her daughter meet with an attorney to discuss their case. The attorney takes out his notepad and uses the formula above to estimate the value of Dorothy’s claim. Here is what he jots down:
$600,000 (economic damages) x 5 (traumatic brain injuries are considered catastrophic injuries) + $12,000 (lost income) = $3,012,000
What about punitive damages?
Punitive damages are only available in cases where the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that their injury was the result of the defendant’s willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.
There’s no formula that South Carolina courts use to award punitive damages. However, the South Carolina Supreme Court has stated that the following factors are relevant when considering how much to award:
- The character of the defendant's acts
- The nature and extent of the harm to the plaintiff
- The defendant's degree of culpability
- The punishment that should be imposed
- The duration of the conduct
- The defendant's awareness or concealment of the act
- The existence of similar past conduct
- The likelihood the award will deter the defendant or others from engaging in similar conduct
- Whether the award is reasonably related to the harm likely to result from such conduct
- The defendant's wealth or ability to pay
What factors can limit my damages in South Carolina?
When calculating your damages, keep in mind that there are 3 main factors that can significantly limit the amount of damages you receive.
1. Damage caps
Most states have damage caps that limit the amount of damages a plaintiff can receive in certain personal injury cases.
In South Carolina, the following damage caps apply:
- In most medical malpractice lawsuits, non-economic damages are capped at $350,000 per defendant and $1.05 million overall (i.e. for all defendants combined)
- Punitive damages in all cases are capped at $500,000 or 3 times the amount of compensatory damages (economic + non-economic damages) awarded, whichever is greater
- In claims against the government, total damages are capped at $300,000
South Carolina follows the modified comparative fault rule. Under this rule, if the plaintiff is partially at fault for the accident, the plaintiff’s damages will be reduced by their percentage of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is deemed more than 50% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff is completely barred from recovering any damages.
Let’s look at an example:
Jason suffers a minor injury and sues Mathew for $10,000.
The court finds that Mathew is 60% at fault for following too closely. The court also finds that Jason is 40% at fault for texting while driving.
Under South Carolina’s modified comparative fault rule, Jason can only recover $6,000 (i.e., 60% of his damages).
3. Failure to mitigate damages
Under South Carolina law, everyone has a duty to mitigate their damages. To put it simply, this means plaintiffs must take all reasonable steps to minimize their damages. If a plaintiff fails to minimize their damages, the court can reduce the amount of damages awarded.
Let’s take a look at an example:
Jennifer’s doctor tells her not to engage in any strenuous activity for 2 weeks. Against her doctor’s advice, Jennifer decided to participate in a bike race she had previously scheduled. During the race, she further injures her ankle and requires an extra 6 weeks of treatment.
Jeniffer sued Adam for $20,000 in medical expenses.
In this example, Jennifer’s damages would be reduced due to her failure to mitigate (i.e., the cost of the additional 6 weeks of treatment would be subtracted).
What other factors can impact my claim?
The damages formula above, along with the other factors discussed, can give you a pretty good idea of the value of the potential value of your claim. Of course, countless other factors might increase or decrease the value of your claim, including:
- The strength of your evidence
- The likeability of the parties involved
- The county where the lawsuit is filed (jurors in some counties are more conservative than other counties)
- The skill and experience of the lawyers involved
One of the best ways to ensure that you receive all the damages you deserve is to keep track of the expenses associated with your injury as well as the day-to-day impact of the injury on your life.
How do I know whether to accept a settlement offer?
The first thing to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to accept a settlement offer is that it’s YOUR decision. Your attorney can provide advice, but the decision is ultimately yours.
Here are 3 factors to keep in mind when deciding whether to accept a settlement offer:
- Many insurance companies and defense attorneys make low initial settlement offers with the expectation that you’ll make a counteroffer. Try applying the damage formula above to see if the offer you receive is anywhere near your estimated damages.
- Don’t forget about potential future expenses. Once you sign a settlement offer, you can’t sue again for the same accident or injury, even if you later find out your injury is more severe than you originally thought.
- Consider the cost of litigation. Going to trial is both financially and emotionally costly. Consider these costs when deciding whether to accept a settlement offer.