How much is my personal injury case worth? This is one of the most frequently asked questions that my clients have. There is almost never a clear-cut answer to this question because there is not a magic formula or calculator that can be used to determine a case’s value. Every case is different, and the value of a case depends on a variety of factors. Some of those factors include whether the other driver was clearly at fault or whether liability is in question, whether you share any blame for causing the accident, the amount of property damage to the cars, the amount of your medical expenses and lost wages, the nature and severity of your injuries, the extent of your pain and suffering, the amount of available insurance coverage, whether there are any aggravating factors in the accident, and the credibility or likability of the parties involved. Based on all of these factors, as well as any others that may be unique to your case, an experienced personal injury attorney can generally come up with a range for the settlement value of your case and determine how to approach settlement discussions with that range in mind. To evaluate a case’s value, it is important to understand the types of damages you are entitled to claim. Broadly speaking, damages fall into three categories: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
Economic damages, also known as special damages, are the economic losses you sustained because of the accident. The most common types of economic damages are medical expenses and lost wages. Under the collateral source rule, you are entitled to claim the full amount that your medical provider bills, regardless of whether they have been paid by health insurance or some other source. This is important to remember because many people believe they can only claim the bills they actually pay out of their own pocket, such as their portion of the co-pay and deductible.
Likewise, you still get to claim lost wages if you miss time from work but still receive payment for your missed time. For example, you may receive payment from using accrued leave time, a disability policy, or workers’ compensation coverage if the accident occurred while you were working. In this scenario, the collateral source rule allows you to claim the missed time from work as lost wages.
You may have additional out-of-pocket expenses you are entitled to claim. For example, you may have to make frequent trips for medical treatments. Or you may have to pay someone to perform tasks you normally performed, such as household chores, going to the grocery store, or doing yard work. It is important to keep an accurate record of any out-of-pocket expenses, including any documentation, such as receipts, that show what you paid.
Non-economic damages are also referred to as general damages. This category of damages includes things like pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, diminished capacity to labor, and bodily disfigurement. These damages are the most frequent source of disagreement in settlement discussions because there is no clear mathematical formula for determining them. Under Georgia law, the standard is the “enlightened conscience of a fair and impartial jury.”
Because nobody knows for a sure what a jury will do in a given case, the amount of non-economic damages an injured person is entitled to receive can be a hotly contested issue. A common myth is that insurance companies offer injured people three times their economic damages as compensation for their pain and suffering. This is simply not the case as there are many factors that go into determining a case’s value. Although no two cases are the same, insurance companies and personal injury attorneys will frequently use their experience handling injury cases, as well as past verdicts and settlements that are similar to your own, to help determine the value of these damages.
Punitive damages are awarded where there are aggravating circumstances that justify an award of damages to punish, penalize, or deter a defendant. They are only appropriate when there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care that would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences. In car accident cases, punitive damages are most common when the driver was drunk, under the influence of drugs, or texting at the time of the accident. Some insurance policies will exclude punitive damages.
As stated earlier, damages alone do not determine the value of a personal injury case. There are other considerations that must be taken into account. For example, there may be a question as to whether the other person is liable. Or, you could have clear liability and significant damages, but there may not be a source of money to pay for your losses if the defendant has little or no money and inadequate insurance coverage.
If you have a Georgia personal injury case, it is important you speak to an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your options. The Champion Firm, P.C., is an experienced Atlanta personal injury law firm that offers free consultations to potential clients. Contact us today for a free consultation with a highly rated Atlanta personal injury lawyer.