When you've suffered injuries in an accident caused by the negligence of another party, filing a lawsuit is rarely the first step on the road to seeking injury compensation. Lawsuits are lengthy and expensive processes, and it's generally better for everyone involved if an equitable settlement can be agreed upon outside of court. In fact, most personal injury claims (some say as many as 97%) are resolved through settlement negotiation without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. Still, sometimes the insurance company refuses to agree to a reasonable settlement, so it's important to maintain a willingness to go to trial in order to seek fair compensation for your injuries. In addition, your negotiation position is much stronger if the insurance adjuster knows you'll take your case to court if he won't offer an adequate settlement.
Before you can sit down at the negotiating table, however, you have to know how much a reasonable settlement is for your particular injury case. Looking at other recent settlements and jury awards in cases similar to yours can be instructive, but there's a significant degree to which every injury case is unique. It's critical to examine the various factors specific to your own injury claim in order to get a clear sense of how much money you should be aiming for with your negotiations.
To get any kind of accurate sense of the true cost of your injuries, you need to seek medical diagnosis and treatment. A substantial portion of the economic losses from your injuries may involve medical bills from doctor visits, physical therapy, mental health care, surgery, prescriptions, medical devices, or whatever other treatments your injuries require. If you don't obtain appropriate medical care promptly, it will be difficult to know what the eventual out-of-pocket financial costs of your injuries will be. In addition, your doctors can offer you their expert opinions on your future prognosis, which will be helpful in determining other aspects of the economic damages relating to your claim.
In broad terms, there are two types of damages for which you can seek compensation in an injury negotiation. Economic damages are those losses with an obvious dollar value associated with them: medical bills, lost wages, property damages, funeral expenses, and the loss of future earning capacity. Some of these are easy to determine, with some careful record-keeping. The costs of your medical care are readily determined by adding up the totals from your doctor bills, minus what an insurance company has paid (like auto or health insurance). You can calculate lost wages by keeping track of how many hours, days, or weeks you missed work due to your injuries, multiplied by your wage or salary.
Other kinds of economic losses may require expert witnesses to calculate reliably. If your injuries left you with long-term disabilities that affect your ability to work, you may need to consult both a doctor (to render an opinion on your inability to work) and an economic expert to determine how much money you likely would have made if not for your injuries, and figure out how much less you're likely to make now. Similarly, your doctor may be able to testify about your predicted future need for additional medical treatment, if your injuries are expected to have lasting consequences for your health.
As difficult as it can be to calculate some economic damages, it can be even harder to determine an appropriate figure for non-economic losses – physical pain and suffering, psychological anguish and shock, humiliation and loss of reputation, emotional distress, and loss of companionship (and the physical side of a marital relationship). It's hard to put a dollar value on these intangible, yet very real and important, losses. Sometimes, these damages are calculated in relationship to the sum of the economic losses – using a formula that multiplies economic losses by 1.5 to 5. some use a formula the financial losses. But this does not work in the majority of cases where economic damages are reimbursed by insurance and therefore not admissible in court. It is then up to a talented negotiator to arrive at a fair compensation amount for an injured client.
There are several other factors that can impact the value of your claim. Sometimes your claim can be affected by your own actions, either before or after the accident that injured you. If the liability of the other party isn't conclusively established, or if the insurance company thinks it can prove that you were partly at fault for the accident, the value of your claim decreases. Similarly, if you failed to take appropriate steps to mitigate the damages you suffered (by seeking prompt medical treatment, for instance, or failing to follow doctor's recommendations for treatment), the amount of any settlement offer may be reduced.
The insurance company also takes into account the likely biases of a jury if your case were to reach trial. Juries should judge solely on the facts, but the human factor is impossible to discount out completely. Your age, career, medical history, and perceived likability can affect your claim's value, as can the venue of a trial – conservative areas often grant lower injury award values than diverse urban areas. All of these factors should be considered when determining your initial settlement demand, and the bottom-line value you're willing to accept before filing suit or while the suit is pending. An experienced personal injury attorney can get a feel for a case and will know the general range in which certain cases settle. .
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.