What Is Your Car Accident Injury Claim Worth?
Written by Patti Gima
The best way to determine how much your injury claim is worth when you are injured in a car accident is to look at how an insurance company would value your claim. An insurance carrier will first look to the types and amounts of damages suffered and then to percentage of fault.
Types of Damages You May Recover
The types of damages an insurance company will typically pay for include the following:
Medical Expenses: This includes medical expenses incurred to treat an injury, such as doctor’s visits; hospital expenses; emergency room expenses; fees for chiropractic care; physical therapy; and any type of medical devices that may be needed for your recovery, such as neck braces or crutches. These expenses are recoverable if they result from your injury. The cost of a medical examination done for the purposes of litigation is generally not recoverable. If you are able to guesstimate how much your overall medical treatment will cost, you and your attorney may well be able to ballpark how much your entire claim is worth. Medical expenses are typically used as a benchmark for determining the reasonableness of damage awards.
Future Medical Expenses: These are recoverable if the injured party can show that he or she is likely to need continued medical care as a result of the accident or injury. This amount may be determined by the advice and opinions of your doctors and/or other medical specialists seen for treatment.
Pain and Suffering: Pain and suffering damages may be granted for physical pain resulting from an accident or bodily injury. A jury will look to the nature of the injury, the severity of the pain, and how long the plaintiff is likely to be in pain to determine the damage amount to be awarded.
Mental Anguish: Recovery for any type of mental or emotional distress suffered as a result of an accident or injury. This could include apprehension, fright, anxiety, nervousness, worry, loss of dignity, humiliation, grief, shock, and/or embarrassment. If the injured party has been disfigured by the accident, mental suffering is recoverable for this type of emotional injury.
Lost Wages: You may recover the amount of money you would have earned between the time of the injury to the time of a judgment or settlement had you not been injured. If you were unemployed at the time of injury, you may still recover lost wages if you can effectively show what you could have earned during that same period.
Loss of Earning Capacity: You may recover damages for lost earning capacity if you can show that your ability to earn money in the future has been impaired. Past earnings will be used to determine an appropriate damage award, but a jury will likely focus on what might have been earned had the accident or injury not occurred.
Loss of Consortium: This relates to the loss of the benefits of married life when one spouse is injured. The uninjured spouse makes the claim and only has a chance of recovering if the injured spouse succeeds in recovering damages. Sometimes, however, the injured makes the claim as well. Married life benefits, the loss of which recovery is based, include companionship, affection, comfort, solace, help, and sexual relations. When determining the value of the loss, a jury will look to the stability of the marriage, the couple’s individual life expectancies, how much care and companionship were given to the uninjured spouse, and the degree to which the above-mentioned benefits were lost.
Property Damage: Recovery for the value of property that was damaged. Go to What You Can Recover for Property Damage in a Car Accident Claim to read more.
Amount of Damages You May Recover
An insurance company typically looks first to how much money has been spent and/or lost by the injured person when determining recovery. You may expect to recover any money spent or lost as a result of your injury. There are damages, however, that are harder to place a dollar value on. This includes pain and suffering or mental anguish. An insurance company may use a formula to ascertain what an appropriate damage amount might be for these types of claims.
The formula might work like this: First, the insurance company’s adjuster adds up the total amount of medical expenses relating to the injury. These damages are referred to as “medical special damages,” or “specials.” This base amount is then used to calculate the “general damages,” such as damages for pain and suffering, emotional damages, or other non-monetary losses.
Next, if the injuries are relatively minor, the adjuster will at most double the amount of special damages. If the injuries are more serious or painful, the adjuster may multiply specials by up to 5. In extreme cases, the adjuster may even multiply by up to 10.
After the adjuster adds on damages for lost income, an amount from which to begin negotiations is then ready to present.
How Fault Affects Your Recovery
Beyond the damages suffered, the degree of fault is probably the most important factor in determining how much you may finally recover for your injury. In most cases, both you and the insurance company will know (by the circumstances surrounding the accident) the level of fault for both parties. Was the other party completely at fault? Mostly at fault? Or only a little at fault? An adjuster will reduce your recovery amount by your percentage of comparative fault. If you were only 10% at fault, your damages total will be reduced by 10%. Your recovery will not be reduced by any amount if the accident was clearly someone else’s fault.
See our section on Car Accident Lawsuits & Lawyers to learn when and how to contact an attorney for your car accident claim.