Calculating Damages in a Personal Injury Case
As our personal injury lawyers at Aronberg, Aronberg & Green know, in a typical auto accident case, one of the most difficult tasks is calculating damages. This article will answer the question, How do I evaluate damages in a personal injury case.
After you’ve retained an attorney, demonstrated that the negligent party breached a duty and caused harm to you through their negligence, you—through your attorneys—must articulate, in a dollar amount, the damage caused. As the defendants (and their insurance companies) will fight tooth-and-nail to avoid paying more than they think they should or want to, damages must be proven; arbitrary numbers won’t do.
So, what types of things do we consider in calculating damages? First, it’s important to recognize that the type of case and the type of injury are highly relevant. For example, in a case where someone has died, damages are—not surprisingly—much higher. In such a case, among other things, we hire experts to calculate the expected lifetime earnings of the individual based on a number of factors, including family history, parents’ educational history, intellect, etc. That said, most of our cases do not involve wrongful death actions. The typical auto accident case entails injuries (of varying degrees) to areas of the back and/or neck, but can also include injures in the legs, arms, shoulders, etc.
Below, we explore some of the most common factors considered in calculating damages.
Past and Future Medical Bills
This is perhaps the most obvious category. Your medical expenses (at doctors’ offices and pharmacies) can provide a strong indication of part of your damages. Medical bills and invoices can show what financial harms you’ve already—up until a given point—incurred as a result of the accident. But importantly, the medical invoices and visit reports will also indicate how much more medical treatment you will need. For instance, a doctor will often be able to describe an injury as permanent or semi-permanent (meaning that you will require ongoing treatment). From these invoices and estimates of required future care, our personal injury lawyers can calculate how much money you will be required to spend (past and future) on medical care due to the accident.
Keep in mind that included in medical bills can be the costs of seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist or other type of therapist or counselor due to emotional trauma from an accident. More on this below.
Unless you are in a unique profession, calculating lost income is often fairly straightforward. Let’s say you make $5,000 per month at your job and let’s say that you have to miss two months of work because of your injury (during which time you are unable to work on the advice of your doctor). Lost income in this case would equate to $10,000. True, each case is different—in some cases a worker will have accrued vacation days sufficient to cover some of their time off as paid. But the general idea is that your weekly wages multiplied by the number of weeks you are out of work due to the accident = your lost income.
Pain and Suffering, Emotional Distress & Loss of Enjoyment of Life
As our personal injury lawyers know, this last part is the hardest to compute, and it is highly fact- and plaintiff-specific. It is, of course, very difficult to put into a dollar value how much somebody has suffered, or how much emotional distress somebody has incurred, or how much less enjoyment somebody gets out of life. As we noted above, if you see a therapist to help sort through these issues, such costs can be considered medical costs. But the hourly rate paid to a counselor is often inadequate to compensate for the emotional trauma of having to relive a horrible accident or the loss of enjoyment of life a star tennis player might experience should their dominant arm be rendered unmovable. The more serious the accident, the higher these costs will likely be. Whereas a slip and fall resulting in an ankle sprain might result in few damages of this sort, a tragic car accident resulting in a broken neck can cause these costs to skyrocket.
It is rare for a defendant (or their insurance company) to automatically agree to pay the full amount requested. There is often a negotiation process, after which you—the client—either (a) agree to accept their final best offer or (b) instruct our personal injury lawyers to file suit on your behalf and have the case resolved by a jury in a court of law. Another thing to keep in mind is that when a jury makes an award to the plaintiff, the total amount of the money awarded is reduced according to how much fault the jury found attributable to you in the accident. So if the jury awards you $100,000, but finds that you were 10% at fault in the accident, that total award will be reduced by 10% to $90,000.