Most of the time when someone is inquiring about a personal injury case, the first thing they want to know is how much money they’re able to be compensated for as a result of the injury. While it is good to hire a personal injury law firm that has notable case results similar to the incident of the prospective client, the total figure a person will receive can vary drastically based on a number of factors. A number of these factors aren’t known right away either, and can only be summated as the case progresses.
The eventual goal of a personal injury claim is to compensate you for any and all financial losses that resulted from the injury. Not every type of loss is completely objective, because there are long term effects an injury can cause that go beyond concrete things such as medical bills. To put simply, total losses can be calculated based on two categories, economic losses and non-economic losses.
Economic losses are the things you would typically think of that need to be compensated for your injury. This includes medical bills, lost wages and other out of pocket expenses. In most cases your medical bills will be paid for by some form of insurance. However, there are things that insurance companies don’t pay for that are absolutely economic losses. Co-payments, travel expenses, any unreimbursed medical expenses, even modifications that needed to be made at home, are reimbursable through your lawsuit. Also, in some cases you may be required to reimburse your healthcare provider for medical expenses that they have incurred if you receive a settlement.
Also, many people have disability policies that pay them a portion of their salary following an injury. In a car accident lawsuit you are entitled to receive your total lost wages from the defendant. However, you are only going to recover the amount of money for lost wages that you did not fully recover from insurance. If your insurer is entitled to reimbursement from your lawsuit, then you will receive the total amount of lost wages from the defendant. However, you will be required to repay the insurer the portion that they paid to you.
Finally, some injuries are devastating enough where the road to recovery is very long. Even worse, some injuries can have a permanent effect and never fully recover. In these cases, your total compensation will account for future economic needs as a result of the injury. For example, if you cannot return to work you are entitled to life-long lost wages. In such situations an economist may be hired to figure out your future lost wages, with retirement and inflation in mind, so that they can be reimbursed accurately in your lawsuit.
As mentioned earlier, there are factors that are not so concrete in how much is owed. Non-economic losses put a monetary figure on subjective effects of the injury, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and other emotional injuries. As you can imagine, it can often be difficult to put a financial figure on such damages. The way it is usually done is by comparing people that have suffered similar injuries and seeing what juries have awarded them at trial. However, if a settlement cannot be reached then that amount of money is decided by a jury. This can often lead to a wide discrepancy from case to case. Also, like economic losses, non-economic losses can also be permanent. In such cases that will have to be accounted for in the jury’s verdict or in the settlement.
The first consideration in formulating the value of a case is liability. Simply put, liability means fault. Who is at fault for the accident? This isn’t always black and white. In New York, we recognize the theory of comparative negligence. That means that to receive compensation for an accident you do not have to establish 100% fault on the opposing party. You can establish any percentage of fault less the 100% and collect for the other party’s proportionate share of fault. So if another party is 50% at fault you can collect 50% of the total value of your damages mentioned earlier.
Once you have calculated both economic and non-economic damages, you simply add them together arriving at a total amount of damages. Once you have a total amount of damages, you multiply it by the opposing party’s total percentage of fault. For example, if your total damages are $1,000,000 and the defendant is 50% at fault you are entitled to $500,000.
At the end of the day, someone has to pay out. The money doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s important to keep in mind that to collect the money you are entitled to, the defendant either must have adequate insurance or have the resources to pay for your damages. If the person is uninsured or under-insured and has no assets, you will not be able to collect the money you are owed. For example, if your total losses equal $1,000,000 but the responsible party is only insured for $25,000, your only way of recovering the difference will be by personally enforcing the judgment you obtain at trial against the responsible party’s assets.
In my experience as a Personal Injury Attorney, most people do not have assets to pay that type of judgment. Therefore, for most accidents, your recovery will be limited by the other party’s insurance. Unfortunately, this scenario arises from time to time. That is why it’s always important to maintain adequate UM/SUM insurance as previously discussed. I always recommend that you match your UM/SUM limits to your own car insurance liability limits.
Steven Palermo is the managing partner for Palermo Law, Long Island’s Personal Injury Law Firm. He has been helping people receive compensation for their injuries for over 21 years. He focuses on cases involving car accidents, truck accidents, construction accidents and slip and fall injuries.
His book The Ultimate Guide to Handling New York Car Accident Claims details the ins and outs of a car accident claim in a simple, easy-to-read manner.