After a car wreck or other injury, you are likely wondering what kind of personal injury compensation you can expect to receive. While every case is unique, there are some general trends, as well as some limits under the law, that can help you know what to expect. This personal injury compensation guide answers 10 of the most frequently asked questions. It focuses mostly on car wreck claims but briefly mentions other types.
1. How Much Is a Personal Injury Case Worth?
The value of your personal injury case depends on the severity of your injuries and the type of your personal injury claim. If your injury resulted from a car wreck, a medical malpractice claim, or a slip-and-fall accident, the likely compensation for your injuries will probably vary widely.
Car Accident Injury Compensation
The value of a car wreck personal injury claim is often, as a practical matter, limited to the amount of liability insurance carried by the at-fault driver. In an ideal world, you should be able to recover the full amount of your damages, including economic and non-economic damages.
However, it can be difficult to collect those damages against the driver personally unless they own signification assets. It is much simpler, once fault is established (by either agreement of the insurance or a court), to collect against an insurance company.
Unfortunately, insurance policies often have very low limits, and they will not pay out above them. In California, drivers are only required by law to carry a minimum liability policy of $15,000 per injured person.
Other Types of Personal Injury Claims
Slip-and-fall injuries and other similar injuries are often covered by homeowners’ insurance or a company’s liability insurance. These policies often have considerably higher limits. Also, if the injury occurred in a business (and if your injuries are severe enough), it may be easier to collect above the policy limits than against an individual.
Medical malpractice claims are extremely complicated, but in short, they do generally have higher limits, although there are still caps and limitations.
2. What are the 3 Types of Damages?
After an injury, you may be entitled to compensation for three types of damages: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. Economic and non-economic damages are collectively called compensatory damages because they both are intended to reimburse you for your losses. Conversely, punitive damages are intended to punish the at-fault party.
Economic damages reimburse you for costs you incurred as a result of the injury. Your medical bills are the most common example.
Non-economic damages are intangible losses that do not have a specific dollar value, such as pain and suffering. Pain and suffering damages can compensate you for ongoing pain from physical injuries, such as back pain, headaches, broken bones, nerve damage, or paralysis.
Punitive damages, also referred to as exemplary damages, are intended to punish unusually egregious behavior by the at-fault party, including malice and gross negligence. They are awarded only by a judge or jury after a court case, and they are quite rare. The amount of punitive damages is not directly related to your injury, but instead to an amount sufficient to act as a punishment on a particular defendant.
3. How Is the Settlement Amount Calculated?
It’s important to remember that a settlement is a compromise. By settling, you avoid the time, cost, and emotional drain of going through a lengthy court case. You get compensated sooner and have access to the funds you need to continue your treatment and get on with your life.
However, when agreeing to a settlement amount, you should never expect to receive an amount equal to your best possible outcome in court. The other party is not motivated to agree to that. They may as well go to court. A settlement is calculated to be between your best outcome and the other party’s best outcome.
4. Is There a “Formula” or “Calculator” to Quantify How Much I’ll Get in a Personal Injury Case Before Speaking to an Attorney?
While you may find plenty of personal injury settlement worksheets or calculators online, the information you receive from them is simply not reliable. There are so many factors that go into determining the amount of your compensation, including the other parties’ insurance limits, the type and extent of your specific injuries, and other circumstances around the car wreck, such as whether you were partially at fault. This kind of calculation is exactly what a personal injury attorney can assist you with.
5. Can A Plaintiff’s Actions (or Inaction) Affect Their Compensation?
Your personal injury payout may be reduced based on the number of actions (or inaction) you take during and after a car accident or other personal injury.
Shared Fault for the Accident
If you share some fault for causing the accident, your compensation may be reduced or even totally barred in some states. For example, they would likely be at fault if another car ran a red light and hit your car. However, if you were driving at an excessive speed and flew through the intersection the moment it turned green, you might be held partially at fault as well.
California, as well as most other states, is a comparative negligence state. This means a percentage of fault is assigned to each party, and at the end of a lawsuit, each responsible party will owe only their percentage of the damages. A few rare states use the contributory negligence rule instead, which completely bars your recovery if you are found to be even partially at fault.
Failure to Mitigate Damages
After you are injured, you have a legal duty to get the injury treated and make sure it doesn’t get worse. If you fail to do this, a court may decide that the at-fault party is not responsible for the full amount of your damages.
6. How Are Wrongful Death Damages and Settlements Different?
Proof of fault is the same in wrongful death cases as in other personal injury cases, but the damages that can be collected are somewhat different. The survivors, or the heirs of the deceased person, can collect economic, non-economic, and (potentially) punitive damages, but the economic and non-economic damages are measured differently. They are focused on the survivors’ losses, both financial and otherwise, rather than the deceased person’s losses.
7. Are There Any Outside Factors from the Case That Might Affect Your Settlement or Compensation?
Several outside factors may affect the amount of your compensation. For one, the laws in every state are a bit different and some may have limitations on the amount you can collect. Also, if you have any liens against your judgment, usually from medical bills related to the car wreck, those will be taken from your compensation.
In addition, if your case is weak or difficult to prove, you may have to consider taking a lower settlement rather than risk going to trial and losing. One example of this would be if you do not have good witnesses to support your case. If you and the other driver have different explanations of how the wreck happened, and you do not have any witness or only an unreliable witness, then it may be more difficult to prove that you are telling the truth.
8. How Is Compensation Usually Divided?
When your case pays out, either through settlement or a court judgment, your compensation will have to first be used to pay your attorneys’ fees, the costs of pursuing your case, your medical bills, and any liens against your judgment. You will take home any remainder.
Attorneys in personal injury cases usually work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they aren’t paid anything until you have received your compensation through the claim. In exchange for working without upfront payment and taking the risk that it never pays out, their fee is typically somewhere between 30% and 50% of the total payout, depending on the state, the type of claim, and other factors.
Sometimes the attorneys will also initially cover any costs to pursue the claim, but that will also need to be paid back from your compensation. That includes court filing fees, expert witness costs, and fees for getting copies of medical records.
9. How Long Does the Process Take?
The length of time the process takes can vary widely. If the case is fairly straightforward and a settlement agreement can be reached, it may settle in less than a year. However, even if the case does end up settling, it could take considerably longer.
Negotiating the best possible settlement for the insurance can sometimes require fully (or almost fully) preparing the case for trial. Insurance isn’t going to just take your word for how bad your injuries or damages are, you (or your attorney) will likely have to marshal all your evidence to prove the damages.
If a case cannot settle and must go to court, it is not uncommon for the full process to take 2-3 years. Even after you are fully prepared for trial, your case is subject to the scheduling and delays of the court.
10. Will My Case Go to Court?
Most cases do settle before going to trial, although it is not uncommon for the settlement to happen on the eve of trial. It is impossible to know for sure whether your case will go to trial, but a personal injury attorney can advise on whether a settlement is likely in your case.
Personal Injury Compensation Guide Bonus Tip: Speak to an Attorney
Speaking to a personal injury attorney is the best way to learn what to expect from your particular case. Hopefully, this guide will give you a bit of a head start by providing some knowledge of the possible outcomes. It should also give you some idea of the questions to ask to gather the necessary information if you’ve been hurt.
If you or someone you love has been injured or killed in a car accident, the accident attorneys at Adamson Ahdoot LLP may be able to help. Our skilled attorneys have successfully helped thousands of clients get the relief they seek for their injuries and recovered millions for our clients. Contact us or call (800) 310-1606 for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. We are confident, we can help!