A common and understandable question we get is: what is my injury claim settlement worth? If you are hurt due to someone else’s negligence, you are likely upset what has happened to you, and worried about how you might pay medical bills, lost wages, and other financial obligations. It’s natural to wonder what is the injury claim worth.
There often isn’t an immediate or certain answer to this question. Although we would like to assure people that they will recover a certain amount of money, it is unwise for any lawyer to guarantee that your injury claim is worth any exact amount, especially early on. The truth is that the value of your injury claim settlement depends on a number of factors, some of which are tough to predict. This article explains why.
What is my Injury Claim Settlement Worth Factor 1: Types of Damages
The first step to finding out what your injury claim settlement is worth is to understand what type of damages are recoverable in a personal injury claim. There are two main categories of damages: 1) economic damages (aka, “special damages”); and, 2) non-economic damages (aka, “general damages”).
Economic damages are damages that are ascertainable and/or reasonably calculable. Typically, this means medical bills and lost wages in a personal injury claim. Medical bills have a definite and ascertainable amount, and lost wages, although perhaps less clear, are still readily ascertainable with a little investigation.
Non-economic or “general” damages are often loosely called “pain and suffering,” but can be broken down into more precise categories like loss of enjoyment of life, grief, sorrow, disfigurement, mental anguish, diminished quality of life, loss of companionship, etc. These categories of damages do not have definite or unimpeachable values, and are instead hotly debated in nearly every case.
The claimant, the human — YOU — often feels like these damages are the most significant part of the claim, whereas insurance companies and conservative jurors tend to think general damages are nominal or fake. An injury claim settlement thus depends heavily on a clear and persuasive non-economic story.
What is my Injury Claim Settlement Worth: Economic Damages
Medical bills and lost wages are the main economic damages that determine injury claim settlement. Past, or already-incurred, economic damages are typically easy to calculate. At Duckworth Law we gather the medical records and bills, and gather wage records to show lost work. Using the records, we can calculate the medical bills and lost wages incurred to date.
Yet, even economic damages can be hazy when predicting future damages. You cannot wait forever to file a claim (often you only have 2-3 years), yet a lawsuit is your one-time opportunity to recover for your damages. Thus, if you are permanently hurt and presumably will have future medical bills and future lost wage, you must find a way to prove those with reasonable probability.
At Duckworth Law we work with your medical providers to arrive at figures for future medical bills. We rely on the providers to predict, with reasonable medical probability, what your future medical needs might be. We can then predict your future medical needs, keeping in mind that without a crystal ball no one knows for sure what the future medical care will be, or what the future medical care might costs in this world of fluctuating health care costs. We do our best to predict medical costs, and often rely on providers and other hired expert witness who specialize in predicting future medical needs.
Same goes for lost wages. Past lost wages might be clear, but future lost wages are often difficult to predict. A permanent injury might cause you to lose your job, or only work part-time, but medical conditions often fluctuate. Oftentimes medical conditions get worse with age, but sometimes they improve, thus any prediction of future wage loss carries are margin of error due to future unknowns. Nonetheless, at Duckworth Law we do our best to account for future lost wages, and rely on vocational experts to help.
As you can see, even economic damages, which seem clear, are subject to debate. We at Duckworth Law attempt to prove true and honest future damages, but insurance companies often belittle such claims.
What is my Injury Claim Settlement Worth: Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic, or “general” damages, are hotly disputed and never clear. General damages account for things like pain and suffering, and loss of life activities like playing with your kids, golfing, fishing, gardening, or other human losses. General damages are the human losses, and also heavily influence injury claim settlement.
Insurance companies and some conservative jurors think general damages are worthless, but we adamantly disagree. Most people who are injured from someone’s negligence would say, “I wouldn’t take a million bucks if I could just have my life back.” That’s a fair way to think about it, because no one would trade their health for money. An injury claim is not something you choose, but when it happens you should not sell yourself short.
If someone hurts you and you have an injury claim, you don’t have a choice, and our justice system requires accountability in terms of money, which is what we recognize as value in our society. Just because it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on loss of human values, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable, it just requires careful consideration. In America we value things in terms of money, and human losses are not worthless, even if tough to put a price tag on. Injury claim worth MUST account for these human losses, or else we risk becoming emotionless, worthless, beings.
Oftentimes in injury claims, multipliers are used to calculate general damages in terms of multiples of the medical bills. It is not perfect, but it can work. Typically the multipliers are in a range of 1.5-5, depending on the impact on your life. For instance, if the medical bills are $100,000, a general damage estimate my be $150,000-$500,000, depending on the facts.
As you might guess, these damages are hotly contested, and insurance companies are juries look at things differently. Whereas insurance companies rely totally on the multiplier concept, juries see things in more human terms. For instance, if a piece of property can be worth $3 million dollars, why can’t someone’s ability to walk be worth more? Your injury claim settlement must consider these human losses.
What is my Injury Claim Settlement Worth Factor 2: Liability
A major factor in determining injury claim settlement is liability. Or in simple terms – who was at fault? In other to recover money for an injury claim in Montana, another party (person, corporation, etc) must have been negligent (at a minimum) — ie, at fault. Negligence triggers liability, and therefore damages.
In the simplest type of case, the defendant is 100% at fault. For instance, a drunk driver who slams into the back of your car while you are stopped at a red light. In this instance, there’s no question that the drunk driver is at fault.
But the real world is often not so clear. For instance, think of a car accident where one person prematurely pulled out from a stop sign, hitting a car with the right-of-way, but the car with the right-of-way was traveling 20 mph over the speed limit. People might disagree as to who was at fault. Or consider a slip and fall case, where someone slips on a banana peel at a grocery store. Many people might automatically think it’s the stores fault, but others might blame the patron and say, “why didn’t you look where you were going?”
In a Montana personal injury claim, a jury is ultimately asked to assign percentages of fault. You must prove that the defendant is at least 51% at fault in order to win, and anything above that is reduced by the percentage that the plaintiff is at fault. In the above car accident example, perhaps the jury says the person who ran the stop sign is 75% at fault, but the speeder is 25% at fault. In this case, the speeder would win the case, but would only be able to recover 75% of his full damages. Thus, if the damages were $100,000, person would recover 75%, or $75,000. Liability is a major factor in injury claim settlement.
Most cases settle, but even if they do the settlement amount is based upon the parties general understanding of fault, and whether the plaintiff (You) was perhaps also arguably at fault. Injury claim settlement is ultimately determined based largely on degree of fault.
What is my Injury Claim Settlement worth Factor 3: Insurance Coverage
Another major consideration for injury claim settlement is insurance coverage. The truth is that settlements are heavily influenced by insurance. This typically means that the recovery is capped at the total value of available insurance, as a practical matter, which may be less than your full damages.
If someone is at fault, and hurts you, that negligent person is personally liable for your damages. But the truth is that if the negligent person does not have insurance coverage, you will likely have an incredibly difficult, if not impossible, task of recovering any money.
The problem is that many people don’t have much money, and if they don’t have insurance, that is a pretty good indication that they don’t have any money in the bank. Certain things in Montana are judgment proof, like a home, thus if someone does not have money in the bank, as a practical matter, you will have a hard time ever recovering money. That person is still liable, you can still sue them, but it may not be worth your time and expense.
So much depends on insurance coverage. Think of a person who has (arguably) damages of $300,000 and the defendant is clearly 100% at fault for a car crash. The defendant might have no car insurance, the Montana minimum coverage of $25,000, $100,000, $250,000, $500,000, or $1 million. In that scenario, unless the defendant has either the $500,000 or $1 million in coverage, the injured party will recover less than the full $300,000 in damages.
If the injured party is unlucky, and the at-fault driver has only $25,000, then the injured party is left recovering a trivial amount, likely not even enough to pay all of the medical bills. *Note, you can mitigate your exposure by purchasing uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
The amount of coverage typically caps the case, although there may be ways around this with the help of a lawyer. Also, the fact that the at-fault coverage has a large amount of coverage doesn’t mean the injured party recovers more than their full damages. If your damages are $25,000 and the at-fault party has $1 million in coverage, you still only recover the $25,000. Injury claim settlement is often, and unfortunately, capped at the amount of coverage.
Hopefully this article helps you understand why it is difficult and unwise for a lawyer to guarantee your injury claim settlement, especially at the beginning. Maximizing injury claim settlement requires careful documenting of all past and future economic damages, as well as putting forth a strong case for the human, non-economic, damages.
At Duckworth Law we cannot guarantee any specific recovery, but we can guarantee that we will work hard to handle your case in a way that maximizes recovery. We make sure you understand your injury claim settlement, and we help you achieve it. Call us to discuss you claim.