Estimate the value of your claim using a simple formula
Personal injury damages are intended to compensate you for the losses you sustain due to someone else’s misconduct. Before you file a lawsuit, it’s wise to have some sense of the potential value of your claim.
Understanding the value of your claim can help you determine whether it makes sense to file a lawsuit or hire an attorney. What’s more, understanding the value of your claim can help prevent you from accepting an unfair settlement offer from an insurance company or defendant.
So how do you calculate the value of your claim?
By using the same formula attorneys and insurance companies use.
What’s included in my calculation?
To understand how to calculate the value of your claim, you first need to know the types of damages that are available.
In a Tennessee personal injury case, you can recover economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Economic damages are intended to compensate plaintiffs for the monetary losses caused by their accident.
Common economic damages include:
- Medical expenses. Tennessee allows plaintiffs to recover past medical expenses (the medical expenses incurred at the time the lawsuit was filed) and future medical expenses (the medical expenses related to the accident that the plaintiff reasonably expects to incur over the course of their life).
- Lost income. Lost income includes the income you missed out on (or will miss out on) because you were recovering from the accident.
- Property damage. You’re entitled to recover the costs associated with fixing or replacing any property damaged in your accident.
Non-economic damages are intended to compensate you for the non-monetary consequences of your accident.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering. Physical pain is subjective and difficult to prove. As a result, insurance companies, judges, and juries have to rely on a number of factors when attempting to determine the value of your pain and suffering. These factors include the type of injury, the type of medication prescribed, the length of recovery, and the permanence of the injury.
- Emotional distress. Accidents don’t just cause physical pain, they almost always take some sort of emotional toll. Similar to pain and suffering, emotional distress is difficult to quantify.
- Loss of consortium. If a loved one has been in an accident, you can recover damages for the change in your relationship.
The formula for calculating damages in Tennessee
Just like plaintiffs, attorneys and insurance companies need a way to quickly estimate the value of a claim. To do so, most use the following formula:
Let’s put this formula to work using a simplified example:
Travon’s formula would look something like this:
30,000 x 1.5 (because the injury Travon suffered was relatively minor) + $500 = $45,500.
Though this formula only provides an estimate (which can change depending on a number of factors), it provides you with an idea of how attorneys and insurance companies will likely value your claim at the start of your case.
Sarah Overstreet v. Shoney’s Restaurant
Sarah Overstreet and her fiance were eating supper at Shoney’s Restaurant in Cookeville, Tennessee when a server dropped 2 dinner plates. The plates shattered on the floor and a shard from one of the plates struck Sarah’s left eye.
Sarah was taken to Vanderbilt University Hospital where she underwent several surgeries in an attempt to stabilize her detached retina and save her sight. Sarah experienced significant pain and discomfort during the 5-month period when these surgeries were performed. She also suffered psychologically as her ability to see through her left eye gradually deteriorated.
Ultimately, the surgeries were unsuccessful and Sarah lost sight in her left eye.
The injury to Sarah’s eye not only affected her vision but also her life. The injury caused her self-confidence to plummet and her psychologist diagnosed her with PTSD.
Sarah continued to work as a nurse after her injury, but her skills suffered dramatically as a result of her disability and her role became limited.
After deliberation, the jury awarded Sarah:
- $250,000 for pain and suffering
- $250,000 for loss of enjoyment of life
- $100,000 for lost wages
- $1.4 million for medical expenses
Total = $2 million
What about punitive damages?
Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages. Instead of trying to compensate the plaintiff for their losses, punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and deter similar behavior in the future.
Because punitive damages are meant to punish and deter, they’re only available if the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted:
- Maliciously. Conscious intentional conduct intended to harm the victim.
- Fraudulently. The intentional use of deceit to deprive the victim of property or their legal right.
- Recklessly. Conduct that’s careless to the point of being grossly negligent (such as drunk driving or shooting a gun in a public place).
Because punitive damages are so rare, they’re generally not included in damage calculations. It’s best to hope for punitive damages, but not count on them.
Should I accept a settlement offer?
Whether or not you should accept a settlement offer depends on a number of factors. These factors include the strength of your case, but also your personal circumstances.
Here are some things 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. This is where the damage formula above comes in handy. If the offer is nowhere near your estimated damages, you should strongly consider rejecting the offer.
- Be sure to give serious consideration to your future expenses before accepting a settlement offer. Once you sign a settlement offer, you can’t sue again for the same accident even if you later find out your injury is much more severe than you originally thought.
- Consider the cost of litigation. You might consider a settlement offer of $30,000 too low if you believe the value of your claim is $40,000. But how much will an attorney cost if you reject an offer and pursue litigation? Most attorneys in Tennessee will receive at least 25% of any damages you receive.
What factors can limit my damages?
Aside from the strength of your case, there are 2 factors that may drastically reduce the amount of damages you’ll receive: your own negligence and damage caps.
Your own negligence
Tennessee follows the “modified comparative fault rule,” which reduces the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover by their degree of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is determined to be 50% or more at fault, the plaintiff is barred from recovery ANY damages.
Let’s look at an example:
The court finds that Jerome is 60% at fault for the accident because he ran into the middle of the road. The court finds that Jill is 40% at fault for the accident because she was texting while driving.
Under Tennessee’s modified comparative fault rule, Jill is only allowed to recover $60,000 (60% of her total damages).
Tennessee damage caps
Tennessee has damage caps that limit the amount of compensation you can recover in certain situations.
There is a higher cap of $1 million for non-economic damages for injuries that involve:
- Severe burns
- Wrongful death of the parent of a minor child
- Paralysis due to spinal cord injury
Additionally, Tennessee places a cap on punitive damages in the amount of $500,000, or twice the amount of the compensatory damages (economic plus non-economic damages) awarded, whichever is greater.
Still have questions?