In 95% of personal injury cases, the defendant and plaintiff will agree on a settlement instead of going to trial. Since trials are time-consuming and the outcome is uncertain, that can be welcome news. But in either case, someone expecting to receive personal injury compensation wants to know “How much can I expect?”
Injuries suffered in auto accidents, slip and fall incidents, or because of medical malpractice all deserve compensation. The amount of that compensation is meant to “make whole” the person who is hurt physically or financially. Simply put, being “made whole” means getting back to the condition one was in before the incident happened. Obviously, the amount of money to accomplish this will not be the same for every person or for every situation, but calculating it does follow some fundamental rules.
Kinds of Losses and Damages in Personal Injury and Wrongful Death
The term “personal injury” is a bit misleading. It includes more than just the physical harm that a person might suffer. It takes into account other losses too, like damaged property, loss of income when someone can’t work after an accident, emotional suffering and mental anguish, and any other things that impact a person’s day-to-day life or future wellbeing.
There are compensatory damages, which assign a monetary value to losses and compensate the injured party with payment of that amount. Compensatory damages are classified as either special or general.
Special damages are things like current and future medical bills, lost earnings, lost future earnings if the person can’t work again, household help while the person recovers, the expense of canceled trips or plans, and the cost to fix or replace damaged property. It is easy to calculate how much someone can expect since each item has a specific cost.
Less clear-cut are what is known as general compensatory damages. These are non-monetary injuries such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, or loss of a companion (in the event of wrongful death.) It is difficult to put a price on things like this because the cost is not in money but in the victim’s peace of mind, comfort, and sense of security.
In the case of a wrongful death suit, compensation for the surviving spouse or children usually includes a combination of special and general damages. They may be reimbursed for funeral expenses and the cost of medical care leading up to the death, as well as an amount for emotional distress and the loss of future financial contributions.
In a small number of personal injury cases, a victim may also collect punitive damages. The purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate for a specific loss, but to punish a defendant for an act of negligence that caused the harm. A purposeful or willful act of negligence is often difficult to prove.
Calculating What to Claim in a Personal Injury Case
Compensation for a personal injury depends on the victim supplying proof in the form of evidence and documentation.
- Proof that the injury happened
- Proof that there were costs associated with the injury
- Proof that someone else was at fault
Proof that the injury happened. Collecting the evidence necessary starts at the time of the incident, whether that is a car accident, a fall, or a medical procedure. Police reports, witness statements, and medical records all help to establish that an injury occurred at the specific time, place and circumstances that the victim is claiming.
Proof of associated costs. The victim must keep all documentation that proves the monetary cost of the incident. This would include all medical bills, car repair invoices, and pay stubs to show lost income.
It is important to look ahead to anticipate future costs, too. Ongoing medical treatment for a serious injury could last for weeks, months, or a lifetime. A victim may need to outfit their home to accommodate a wheelchair or hire at-home caregivers or household help.
It is difficult to put a price on pain and suffering or mental anguish, but the evidence that it exists can be gathered. Medication, therapy sessions, and recovery time might cost money, but they also help to prove that they suffer from PTSD, anxiety, or depression as a result of the incident. An attorney can assist in determining how much they can expect in the form of compensation for these invisible injuries.
Proof that someone else was at fault. If a suit is being brought against someone, it makes sense that there must be proof that the person is, indeed, at fault (or at least partially at fault). Showing just how someone’s actions—or inaction—lead to another person’s injury often requires the skill of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
When filing a claim for damages for a personal injury, there is no magic number that a victim should request. And there is no limit to the amount…in theory. But victims must be realistic when asking “how much can I expect?” It will be much easier to receive compensation for actual bills than for harder to prove things like mental anguish or the other party’s negligence. And even when a victim has a clear-cut case and is awarded a large settlement, it is not always easy to collect.
Things That Could Hurt Chances of Collecting Compensation
There are some things that can stand in the way of a victim collecting personal injury compensation. Certain circumstances can affect the amount they receive or whether they will get anything at all. Here are some of the things to watch out for that can interfere with how much to expect.
Unwillingness or inability to pay. Even if a victim is awarded a settlement, there’s always a chance that the person responsible for the injury will not have the money or will resist paying. An attorney can help uncover assets that the defendant may not have disclosed. They can also file the necessary paperwork to place a lien on their property or garnish their wages. But it’s important to remember that it may take a long time to receive complete compensation plus interest. If the defendant has insurance, it will help pay the award, but only up to the amount of the insured’s predetermined liability limit. (If the victim has a supplemental accident insurance policy, it can make up the difference between the defendant’s insurance and the total settlement.)
Contributory negligence. If the person seeking compensation is in any way responsible for the incident, it could ruin their chances of collecting or change how much they can expect. The rules are different in Illinois and Missouri. Illinois is a modified comparative negligence state. This means that even if the plaintiff is partly at fault too, the defendant will have to pay 100% of the damages unless the blame is 50/50. So, for example, if the defendant is found to be 55% responsible, they are liable for the entire settlement amount. Missouri, on the other hand, is a pure comparative negligence state. They use the exact percentage of liability for the award. In our example of 55% responsibility, they would only pay 55% of the compensation amount.
Failure to mitigate damages. Even a personal injury victim has a responsibility when it comes to their physical and financial losses. If they fail to get medical attention or take other actions that will prevent further losses, they could lose some or all of their awarded compensation. Say, for example, a car drives into the side of a home, causing extensive damage. The homeowner can get compensation from the driver. But what if they do not call someone to board up the broken windows and close the hole, and a bad storm adds to the problem with additional destruction of the property inside. Their compensation may only cover what needed to be fixed after the crash, but not the storm-damaged furniture inside. The homeowner failed to mitigate damages.
Unreasonable or unnecessary requests. How much personal injury compensation one can expect can be lowered if some of it is deemed unnecessary. For example, if a victim in a car accident seeks help from a plastic surgeon for facial cuts and requests some elective cosmetic surgery at the same time. This will most likely be considered unreasonable and would not be covered by a compensation settlement.
Statute of limitations. Every state gives personal injury victims a set amount of time to make a claim. Failure to submit a compensation request on time could make it impossible to collect. For accidents in Illinois, claims must be made within 2 years. Missourians have 5 years to file.
Seek an Attorney’s Help With a Personal Injury Claim
There is a lot to be done after an accident: gathering evidence, documenting everything, estimating and predicting future costs, and being careful that the statute of limitations doesn’t run out. When you’re also trying to get medical treatment and heal, this can be too much.
If you have a personal injury that is someone else’s fault, it helps to hire an attorney like the lawyers of Hipskind & McAninch, LLC. They can assist you through the process of filing a personal injury claim, and answer your question of “How much can I expect?”