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One of the most common questions I hear from prospective clients is, “What is my case worth?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. The most important thing to understand is that as an accident victim, you are being compensated for a number of factors, some of which are unknown or uncertain at the beginning of a case.
The first consideration in formulating the value of a case is liability. Simply put, liability means fault. Whose fault was the accident? 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. For example, if another party is 50% at fault you can collect 50% of the total value of your damages.
The second consideration in determining how much money your case is worth is actually assessing your total damages. Your damages are your economic loss combined with your pain and suffering. Economic loss refers to out of pocket expenses incurred because of your accident. Medical bills, lost wages, medicines, household help, and transportation costs are all examples of economic losses.
Pain and suffering refers to everything that you go through physically, mentally and emotionally following your accident. Many people suffer from debilitating pain. That pain manifests itself in a number of ways including feelings of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. The more that you are adversely affected by your accident, the greater your pain and suffering, thus the more money you are entitled to for that pain and suffering.
Further, you are entitled to recover for not only past damages but also future damages, as well. To calculate your future economic loss, it may be necessary to engage professionals such as vocational experts and economists. Once retained, these experts can develop a clear picture of your future economic losses.
Your economic damages are more objective as opposed to your pain and suffering which tend to be much more subjective. However, once you have calculated both, 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.
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. 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.