Being injured due to someone else’s negligence is one of the most stressful and disruptive things a person can go through.
When you’re injured, whether it was in a car wreck or on someone else’s property, your world is turned upside down. You’ll have medical bills to pay that may not be covered by your insurance. You may be out of work for an extended period of time. And you may suffer from pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, a lack of sleep, and overwhelming stress that also affects your loved ones.
It’s not fair – it shouldn’t have happened – but now that it has, you need help and the compensation you deserve to make your life whole.
But how much can you expect to receive for your injuries? How much is your pain and suffering worth?
“How much can I get for my personal injury case?” is one of the most common questions we hear. As personal injury lawyers, we have the responsibility of assessing a case and calculating the potential recovery. It’s not easy, and it’s just as much an art as it is a science.
Here, we’ll break down the factors that play into determining the value of your injury case. Note that there isn’t a magic formula that allows you to simply plug in numbers and get an absolute value. It’s hard to put a dollar figure on pain and suffering, for example, and the other side’s attorneys will get a chance to argue even the hard figures you put forth.
But, it’s our duty to help you figure out the worth of your case. This is how we do it.
Calculating Economic Damages
Damages in a personal injury lawsuit are divided into two categories: economic and non-economic. (These are also called specific and general damages, respectively.)
Economic damages include costs that have hard dollar amounts to them. These are monetary damages you’ve experienced as a direct result of your injury.
There are a lot of potential economic damages that we calculate, based on the documentation you bring to us (tip: collect records for everything; account for every dollar that you have lost, up until now or in the future). These include:
- Medical bills
- Ongoing physical therapy and rehabilitation
- Lost wages
- Decrease in salary
- Damage to your vehicle
- Other related expenses (such as having to modify your home to accommodate a wheelchair)
We can calculate the value of these fairly easily, although a competing attorney can argue against them even if we have solid documentation. Having verifiable records makes it easier for us to prove our case, though.
We’re not looking at just what you’ve had to pay up until now. We’re trying to calculate the total lifetime value of these damages based on the severity of your injury.
We’ve had clients who became paralyzed and couldn’t work, and thus we calculated a certain number of years that we expected him to have been able to work, and then multiplied that by his expected wages each year (accounting for raises, promotions, and inflation) to arrive at a lost wages number.
We were then able to use that number as a solid floor on what he could receive in compensation. (He was awarded much more than that for other economic damages, such as ongoing physical therapy and medical equipment, as well as his pain and suffering.)
The key to proving economic damages is documentation. Document everything. We can’t stress how important this is. We can help you after the fact to some extent, but it’s always easier to just keep a record of the losses you’ve incurred.
Calculating Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages, or general damages, account for the decrease in your quality of life. These are usually non-monetary costs that nevertheless significantly impact not just your life, but the lives of your loved ones.
Non-economic damages are tricky, and calculating these for a personal injury case is really where the experience and skill of your lawyer come into play. Whatever we come up with for this number, we have to be able to defend. Any attorney can calculate a massive number, and indeed, some attorneys may have given you an eye-opening figure.
But whatever number is calculated for pain and suffering has to be defended, and defended well – otherwise the other side will tear it down. This is where experience, skill, and tenacity matter.
Non-economic damages usually include:
- Psychological trauma
- Ongoing counseling or other treatment
- Damage to your relationships (such as with your spouse)
- Loss of enjoyment of everyday activities
- Disruptive alteration of your lifestyle
Put simply, this number attempts to put a value on your quality of life. If you can’t enjoy day-to-day tasks because you’re in so much pain, or you have difficulty connecting with your spouse because of the emotional trauma from the accident, or you have slipped into depression from the injury, then you should be compensated.
Punitive Damages: the Third Type of Damages
We’ve covered economic and non-economic damages, but some states allow for another type of damages: punitive damages.
Punitive damages are broadly considered a type of non-economic damage, but they’re important enough to talk about separately. They are intended to punish the wrongdoer and provide a negative incentive for that wrongdoer and others to not commit the same wrong again in the future.
For example, we’ve had clients collect punitive damages from trucking companies after their drivers were found liable for gross negligence enabled in part by the trucking company itself. These damages were intended to punish the trucking company for their wrongdoing. Hopefully, in the future, the trucking company will refrain from negligent policies to prevent further consequences.
In a jury trial, the jury will determine whether or not the amount of punitive damages we are suing for is appropriate or excessive. Judges also have some say over how they are awarded.
Know that this type of damages can be used to punish the other party, while also being included in the overall value of your personal injury case.
How You Can Help Prove Your Case’s Worth
The following pieces of evidence can help prove the value of your case when it comes time to talk about settlements or present to a jury in court:
- All medical bills (whether it was a one-time treatment or ongoing treatment)
- Medical records (including statements from physicians if possible)
- Police reports
- Witness statements
- Mental health provider statements
- Tax records or paystubs
- Photographs of the scene of the injury
- Any physical evidence related to the injury
- Family impact statements
A capable attorney can come up with a long list of pieces of evidence to support your case, but before he or she can help you, you’ll have to document as much as you can. If at all possible, someone needs to talk to witnesses at the scene and collect their contact statement.
The last item – family impact statements – is one that can come in handy when establishing grounds for non-economic damages. How your relationship with your family has changed is absolutely a part of your case. Your injury has had severe consequences, and they need to be documented – and talking to your loved ones is one step.
Putting It All Together: Finding Your Case’s Value
As we mentioned before, there is no magic formula to follow. If there were, being a personal injury attorney would be a lot easier!
The truth is, your case is only as valuable as your attorney can prove it is. In other words, you can demand millions, but your attorney will have to argue for every penny. The best way to put a dollar figure on your pain, suffering, and injuries is to talk to a personal injury lawyer. We’ll sit down with you and go over your case in detail. We’ll ask a lot of questions, and it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers.
We approach every case like a partnership. We want to help you calculate a value so we can then go after the responsible parties and get your compensation.
Your attorney will also be able to give you their expert opinion from their previous experiences about the legal environment and what you could expect from a settlement or a trial. This part of determining the future of your case is extremely underrated, which is why it’s best to go with a battle-tested personal injury lawyer who has a long track record of results.
We can’t tell you what your case is worth until you talk to us. But rest assured: if anything can be recovered for you, we won’t stop until we deliver.
Personal injuries can be devastating, but there is hope. Talk to a personal injury lawyer and take the first step toward finding justice and compensation for your ordeal.