What Is Your Car Accident Injury Claim Worth?
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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.
What to Include in Your Claim
The types of damages an insurance company will typically pay for include the following:
Medical Bills: This includes services that you have received and/or products that you have purchased to treat your injury. For example, any hospital care that you required, including but not limited to emergency care; doctor appointments, chiropractor visits; work done with a physical therapist; crutches, braces, or bandages, etc., are all medical expenses that are usually paid for or reimbursed by the insurance company. While most medical expenses incurred as a result of your injury will likely be recoverable, medical exams that are ordered in preparation for litigation are the one exception. The total amount of medical expenses is a very important figure because it is often used as a benchmark for determining your total damages, and the amount and type of medical damages can impact other types of damages, such as pain and suffering, lost wages and emotional distress.
If you think you will continue to need medical care following the settlement of your claim, then these future medical expenses should be part of your settlement. Your doctor(s) and any other medical specialists you are seeing for treatment can provide their advice and opinions about how much ongoing care you will need and how much that will cost.
Emotional Distress/Pain and Suffering: Emotional distress and pain and suffering can be one of the devastating consequences of a car accident. If the accident and/or resulting bodily injury is serious enough, you may be suffering from anxiety, fear, or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Disfigurement can lead to other types of emotional distress, such as shock, humiliation or embarrassment. Mental anguish resulting from a car accident should not be discounted simply because they are not physical injuries, and you should speak to an attorney if you are suffering from emotional distress as a result of an accident.
Lost Income/Lost Earning Ability: If your injury is serious enough, you may have lost time from work, or if the injury is permanent, you may not be able to return to your previous line of employment. Income that you have lost due to your injury is an expense that you should include in your claim. This includes uncompensated time that you took off from work because of your injury and should be calculated based on what you would have earned had you not been injured. If it looks like you will no longer be able to earn as much money as you did before the accident, then you should also include the lost earning capacity in your claim.
Loss of Companionship: When a spouse is injured, the loss to his or her partner is called Loss of Consortium. Loss of Consortium covers loss of companionship, sexual relations, aid and comfort, affection and partnership. The partner who sues for this type of damage will only recover if the injured spouse succeeds in recovering damages. When a jury is asked to determine the extent of the loss of the benefits of the marriage, it will consider the strength and stability of the marriage, the care that was given during the marriage before the accident, the life expectancies of the couple and the degree to which these interests have been lost due to the accident in question.
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.
Putting a Dollar Amount to Your Claim - The Settlement Formula
Placing a dollar value to your claim can be challenging, but if you are dealing with an insurance company to settle your claim, it may not be as complicated as you might think. Out of pocket expenses, money you spent or lost as a result of the accident, are often paid by insurance companies without too much conflict. Likewise, lost income, if it is simply a matter of lost time from work while dealing with the inconvenience of the accident or recovering from any injuries, is typically uncontroversial. However, pain and suffering or emotional distress due to an injury often involve more negotiation. Insurance companies use formulas to help pinpoint a reasonable dollar figure for pain and suffering. The formula can look something like this:
Total Medical Expenses (or Special Damages) are multiplied by a number that reflects the seriousness of the injury (2, 5, 10, etc.) to obtain an amount that reflects the General Damages (pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc.). Special Damages, General Damages and Lost Income are added together to create an amount that begins negotiations for settlement of the claim.
For a relatively minor injury, the calculation can go something like this:
Total Medical Expenses x 2 = General Damages
Total Medical Expenses + General Damages + Lost Income = Settlement Offer
Your Own Carelessness Can Affect Your Recovery
Finally, your own contribution, if any, to the accident could figure in to your total settlement award. If you were partially or mostly at fault for the accident, an adjuster may decide to lower your settlement offer by a percentage that reflects your own responsibility for the accident. If the other driver was completely at fault for the accident and his or her level of responsibility is not in dispute, your settlement should stand at 100% of all damages and lost income that you manage to negotiate.
See our section on Car Accident Lawsuits & Lawyers to learn when and how to contact an attorney for your car accident claim.