“How much is my claim worth?” is probably the most common question that personal injury lawyers hear during initial consultations.
It is perhaps the most important question you can ask, too, because most people settle for far less than their claim is actually worth.
Unfortunately, there is no way to answer this question without knowing the specifics of your claim. However, you can consider certain factors and types of damages to get a general idea of what your claim may be worth.
What Are the Components of a Personal Injury Claim?
There are three types of personal injury compensation: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Economic damages cover your financial losses, and non-economic damages cover your personal losses that are more difficult to value.
Punitive damages are not usually awarded even when the claimant wins the case, as they are intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior.
Medical expenses are fairly self-explanatory. A gray area arises, however, with certain types of treatment. For example, an insurance company might question homeopathy, yoga, or chiropractic services even if they prove extremely effective.
Future Medical Expenses
Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) is the point where your doctor doesn’t expect further medical treatment to improve your condition. You should typically wait until you reach MMI before you file a claim so that you will know how much your medical expenses cost. Some injuries, however, never fully heal.
In such cases, you face the difficult task of estimating medical expenses years or even decades into the future.
Miss a day of work, and you have lost earnings. This is true even if you use a day of sick leave and receive the same paycheck that you normally do.
The reason for counting your sick leave as lost wages is that once you lose a day of sick leave, you have one less day remaining in case you need it in the future. You are entitled to all of your earnings lost due to your injury.
Future Lost Earnings
You may have to settle for a lower-paying job if you cannot return to your old position due to your injury. You might even find yourself chronically unemployed because of a permanent disability.
You deserve reimbursement for these losses as well. The younger you are, the more years of earnings you have lost and the more money you deserve.
Child Care, Housekeeping, and Other Out-of-Pocket Expenses
You cannot raise children while you are in the hospital or bedridden from an injury. That means you will have to hire someone else to do it. Likewise, you cannot perform housekeeping chores while you are physically infirm, and professional housekeeping services are expensive.
You’re entitled to reimbursement for these expenses and any other expenses caused by your injury (flying to another city to see a specialist, for example).
Strictly speaking, property damage is not part of a personal injury claim. However, property damage claims are typically bundled with bodily injury claims. For example, in a car accident, you are likely to file a claim for damage to your car at the same time as your whiplash claim.
Note that the California statute of limitations is different for these two kinds of claims—two years after the accident for personal injury, and three years after the accident for property damage.
Pain and Suffering
“Pain and suffering” means physical distress arising from your injury. It may be intangible, but it is every bit as real. You will likely receive more money for pain and suffering than for all other components of your claim combined—if you hire a persuasive lawyer, that is.
Emotional distress includes depression, phobias (fear of heights, dogs, etc.), PTSD, and other conditions. You must suffer physical injury to claim damages for emotional distress.
Suppose you suffered facial injuries that were so serious that you shudder to look in the mirror. Alternatively, suppose you lost all of your fingers in an industrial accident. Damages for medical expenses would not be inadequate compensation. This is what physical disfigurement damages compensate for.
Loss of Enjoyment of Life
Suppose your injuries prevent you from enjoying your hobbies. Imagine being unable to take a stroll in the park, play with your dog, or go to the gym. You can claim damages for loss of enjoyment of life.
Loss of Consortium
“Loss of consortium” means loss of intimate relations, including but not limited to sexual relations. Normally, it is your spouse who files this claim.
Courts award punitive damages, known in California as “exemplary damages,” to punish the defendant for outrageous behavior, not to compensate you. Nevertheless, you are the one who receives these damages if the court awards them.
Courts are reluctant to award punitive damages and will do so only in unusual cases—an intentional assault, for example.
What Are Some Limitations on the Real Value of a Claim?
Certain practical limitations might reduce the value of your claim. The following is a description of some of the most common limitations.
Insurance Coverage Limitations
If you are relying on an insurance company to pay the value of your claim, remember that insurance companies are liable only to the extent of the coverage that they agreed to in their contract with the insured.
Insurance coverage limitations come up frequently in car accidents. However, commercial truck drivers and on-duty Uber/Lyft drivers carry a lot of insurance.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
If you suffer a work-related injury covered by workers’ compensation, you cannot claim compensation for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. Your compensation is typically limited to medical expenses and lost earnings.
It is possible, however, that a loophole might exist that will allow you to exit the worker’s compensation system and seek non-economic damages such as pain and suffering through a third-party lawsuit.
Pure Comparative Fault
If the accident was partly your fault, you will lose whatever percentage of damages equals your percentage of fault (as determined by the court). If you were 15% at fault, for example, you will lose 15% of your damages.
A skilled personal injury lawyer is usually worth their weight in compensation, even after you pay legal fees. Although no ethical lawyer will guarantee a particular result, your odds are much better with a good lawyer than without one.
An Experienced Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Recover the Full Value of Your Claim
If you have a valid personal injury claim, you need to know how much it is worth. The services of an experienced personal injury lawyer are critical.
Contact a skilled personal injury lawyer who will know every trick that defendants and insurance companies use to deny personal injury victims the full value of their claims. And they won’t fall for a single one of them.