Many different factors contribute to placing a monetary value on your car accident claim. The extent of your injuries, the amount of economic loss you’ve suffered as a result of the accident, and whether or not you make a full recovery all help determine what a settlement or verdict in your favor might look like. Insurance companies and judges also consider your likelihood for a full recovery, insurance policy limits, and the extent to which you might have caused the car accident in which you suffered harm.
Your car accident attorney will use a variety of methods to calculate the monetary value of your claim, including using tangible numbers from medical bills and pay stubs and reviewing cases that are similar to yours. In claims involving severe accidents and injuries, your attorney might call on experts who can better quantify specific costs related to your injury. For example, if you or your loved one requires lifelong care because of a permanent disability, a life care planner can help speak to the cost of future medical treatment. An accident reconstruction specialist can help establish liability and explain how the accident led to your injury, making it more likely that you will receive compensation.
Even when your attorney spends time and effort valuing your car accident claim to the best of his or her ability, it’s impossible to guarantee any specific financial outcome for your case. Depending on the circumstances of your car accident, a settlement or a verdict in your favor can range from $500 to more than $5,000,000. A good lawyer will advocate for you and diligently pursue the best results given your specific circumstances. Below we offer deeper explanations of factors that can contribute to the worth of your claim to give you a better idea of what you might be facing.
Severity of Injury
A good rule of thumb to give you an idea of how much your car accident claim might be worth is that the more severe your injuries are, the higher the settlement or verdict amount will likely be. For example, a broken arm, although painful, typically heals within a few months and is far less severe than a cracked vertebrae or herniated disc in the back, which might require one or more surgeries to heal. Additionally, more severe injuries lead to spending more time in the hospital, which increases the value of your claim. The main idea of compensation following a car accident is to make injured individuals whole again, which means to cover expenses that they otherwise would not have encountered but for the accident. Thus it makes sense that more severe injuries, which inherently involve more medical costs and expenses, will make a car accident claim worth more.
Nature of Injury
When your attorney values your claim, he or she will consider the nature of your injury on your body. Some types of injuries can lead to additional struggles that can lead to feelings of frustration or humiliation. For example, a person who suffers a burn injury on his or her face in a car accident or has to have a limb amputated will likely recover more compensation for these injuries. Burn victims must deal with feelings of humiliation due to scarring, and amputees must struggle with phantom pain and learning how to use a prosthetic limb. Following a car accident, the law generally permits injured individuals to seek compensation for both physical and emotional injuries.
Chances of Full Recovery
Your chances of a full recovery are strongly tied to the severity and nature of your injury, all of which your attorney will use to determine how much your car accident claim might be worth. Some injuries are very straightforward; full recovery for a broken bone, minor whiplash, or a mild concussion is likely, and a victim who has an amputation will obviously not make a full recovery. Other injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, can cause victims to suffer chronic pain throughout their lives and their chances of a full recovery vary greatly depending on the circumstances. If you are going to encounter costs that stem from your injuries for the rest of your life, you should receive compensation for all of these expenses as well. Your attorney will consult with your doctor and medical experts to find out your prognosis and use it to value your claim.
5 Different Economic Losses
Depending on the severity of a car accident, victims and their families will likely encounter a wide range of financial expenses and losses. Oftentimes, the accident injury victim cannot work, so he or she is losing household income while medical expenses continue to amass. Car accidents are costly, and the most severe accidents might lead to six-figure, sometimes even seven-figure, totals for medical costs. These expenses include all costs associated with your medical treatment, including transportation to and from your appointments. The more economic loss you experience as a result of your accident, the more your car accident claim will be worth. Common economic losses that can increase the value of your claim include:
1. Medical Expenses
Treatment for your injury results in a wide range of costs. You likely visited the emergency room after your accident, so that’s the first expense. If you rode in an ambulance, you will have to pay for that as well. Other medical expenses include hospitalization, which can cost hundreds, sometimes thousands, per day, and doctor visits. Once you are released from the hospital, you will likely have to return for follow-up visits. Depending on your injuries, you might have surgery, which comes with a whole other set of costs for the procedure, medical professionals, anesthesia, supplies, and aftercare. In cases involving catastrophic injuries, medical expenses might also include long-term nursing care, often very expensive and not covered by insurance. If your loved one suffered catastrophic injuries, you might be filing a car accident claim on his or her behalf. Medical expenses associated with lifelong care will exponentially add to the value of the claim.
2. Lost Wages
If you were working outside of the home before your car accident, your economic losses will likely include lost wages. Even use of your paid time off, such as personal days and sick leave, counts as an economic loss. Eventually, paid-time-off runs out, and then you are left with nothing as you go through the recovery process. The longer you miss work, the higher your car accident claim will be worth. In the event a severe or catastrophic injury prevents you from returning to your job or seeking any gainful employment, your attorney will also factor lost future wages and benefits into the value of your claim.
3. Rehabilitative Costs
Severe car accident injuries require extensive time for healing and recovery. Weeks or months of complete or partial immobility weakens muscles and causes people to lose some of the functions. Additionally, some injuries, such as spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries, impact cognitive and motor skills as well as muscle movement and a host of other functions. Part of the recovery process for most who have suffered serious injury includes meeting with one or more specialists to help recover functions or learn new methods to do the things that the injured individuals did before the accident. Examples of rehabilitative costs that can add value to your car accident claim include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and assistive devices such as wheelchairs, artificial limbs, canes, and crutches.
4. Home Modification Expenses
Those who are fortunate enough to return home after a severe car accident might need to modify their homes to make them more accessible, especially if their accident resulted in a permanent disability. Home modification costs, which can add to the value of your car accident claims, include things such as building a wheelchair ramp or installing handrails in the bathroom or shower area. Depending on the layout of the home, some accident injury victims might have to put an addition on their main floor because they cannot go up or down stairs to get to their bedrooms and/or bathrooms. Those with severe injuries requiring long-term care, who choose to receive care at home, might also need to purchase a hospital bed for their home.
5. Replacement Services
Before your car accident, you were probably responsible for some or all activities required to maintain your home. A severe accident might leave you unable to perform some or all of these duties, so you or your family will need to hire people or services to help out. Some common examples of replacement services include lawn care and landscaping services to help with outdoor maintenance, snow removal services, cleaning services, and grocery delivery services. If you stayed home with your young children before your accident, or needed to care for older children after school, you might also need to hire childcare services. This might include hiring a nanny or sending young children to daycare, or hiring someone to help out after school. The replacement services a household needs vary based on the severity of a victim’s injury and his or her capacity to do certain things, as well as the family’s ability to chip in and help out. In any case, costs for these types of service can add value to your claim.
4 Non-Economic Losses
If you have sustained severe injuries in a car accident, you understand the financial burden that often accompanies an injury. Yet, economic losses only begin to cover some of the challenges car accident injury victims must face every day. Your attorney will evaluate how your injury has impacted your life in non-economic ways. Depending on your situation, this might increase the value of your car accident claim. Some examples of non-economic losses included in settlements or court-awarded damages are:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium with a spouse
- Loss in quality of life
Car Insurance Policy Limits
After experiencing a severe car accident, the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier and policy can play a large part in determining the value of your claim after you have exceeded the limits of your no-fault medical benefits coverage. Unless the driver who caused the accident has unlimited financial resources, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to receive compensation over and above his or her policy limits, even when liability was clearly established by the insurance company and/or the court.
Pennsylvania does have minimum insurance coverage requirements, and those who have a car loan must carry full coverage. If you have suffered severe injury after a car accident, it’s highly likely your lawyer will seek full compensation up to the at-fault driver’s car insurance policy limits. By the time you factor in medical costs and the rest of the previously listed economic losses, you will easily exceed many policy limits.
Punitive Damages: Rare But Possible
If a driver behaves in an egregiously reckless manner or intentionally tries to harm you, the value of your claim might increase. Although it’s rare, Pennsylvania courts might award punitive damages to punish the defendant for his or her gross negligence or intentional harm. Punitive damages aren’t common when other drivers cause an accident, but when a defective vehicle or automotive part causes an accident and injury, a victim might receive punitive damages. Intentional fraud or concealment by the auto manufacturer or auto parts company might motivate a court to award punitive damages. Your experienced car accident attorney will advise you if punitive damages apply to your case. If they do, a court might award up to 10 times the amount of general damages if it rules in your favor.
If you or a loved one were injured in a car accident that was not your fault, contact a car accident lawyer to answer any questions that you may have and discuss your eligibility to file a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver.