I am asked repeatedly, “Brandon, what is my personal injury case worth?” This is a seemingly innocent question that is impossible to answer until your case is ripe. What do I mean by that? Several things have to happen before your lawyer can value your case. For example, you have to finish treatment, your lawyer has to gather all of your medical records, and your lawyer has to sort, organize and review those records. Then your case is ripe.
At that point, your lawyer can attempt to value your case. There are several parts of your case that are easy to value and then there are other noneconomic damages that are very difficult to value.
I’ll touch on each element of damages in turn:
1. Medical expenses past and future
This is obviously the easiest economic factor to determine what your personal injury case worth. If you have had $35,000 in medical expenses in the past then you are entitled to $35,000. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. Often, the insurance companies will ask a random doctor to review your medical records to say that some of the medical bills were not caused by the wreck.
It gets a little trickier on the future medical expenses because no one has a crystal ball. In court, an opinion about future medical treatment will not be admitted as evidence unless a doctor can say to a reasonable degree of medical probability that you will have certain procedures or treatment in the future. Without that doctor’s opinion, you don’t have any future medical expenses.
If, however, you have a doctor who is familiar enough with your condition and what your treatment will be, then you may be able to elicit those opinions and hire a certified life care planner to put a number on the future treatment based on the relevant medical coding and the cost for that treatment.
2. Lost income or loss of earning capacity
You can claim lost income if your doctor says you cannot work and you have lost income for that time period the doctor wrote you out of work. If you doctor says you can work, then you cannot claim lost wages. This number can be easily determined by comparing your rate of pay before the injury and applying it to the period you have been out of work.
Or, if your loss of income is permanent, you might consider hiring an vocational expert to value your loss of income and benefits of the remainder of your working life. These numbers, while not as easy as medical expenses, are still pretty simple numbers to reach.
Loss of earning capacity is different than lost wages. You may be able to earn wages but if you are unable to do the type of work you did before the injury, hone you may be entitled to a loss of earning capacity. You typically see loss of earning capacity in cases where you do manual labor that requires physical activity and you suffer from an impairment of one of your body members. If your doctor will give you an impairment rating and you are no longer able to do the type of work you used to, then loss of earning capacity becomes relevant.
3. Bodily injury and the effect your injury has had on your health according to their degree and probable duration
This element of damages is based on the type of injury you had. For example, if you have a broken leg as opposed to a soft tissue injury, clearly the broken bone is much more of a traumatic injury. Most soft tissue injuries resolve and do not affect your health for a long time, but with a broken bone and the healing that goes along with it, you might have a nonunion, you might need a future surgery to fix a nonunion. All of these things are complications that go along with broken bones and they are taken into account in determining the effect on your health.
Some soft tissue injuries never resolve. If you have that type of injury, the jury will need to be guided toward this element of damages. Perhaps the bodily injury is not has severe as a broken bone, but the effect on your health and the degree and probable duration could be much longer than a broken bone.
This is very difficult to put a dollar number on, but it is necessary to determine the value of your case.
4. Physical pain that you have felt in the past and that you will feel in the future
This element can be broken into two subparts: past pain and future pain. I always argue to the jury that a dollar number should be allocated for each.
The past pain is obvious. You will need to describe your pain to the jury and your doctors will also describe your pain to the jury so that they will have evidence of what you past pain is.
If you are still not better by the time of your trial, then your doctor will need to say that you will be in pain in the future. If you are in pain as of the date of the trial, then the jury can presume that your pain will continue. I will typically include a jury instruction telling the jury what your life expectancy is, so that the award can account for that period of time.
5. Mental anguish that you have felt in the past and that you will feel in the future
This is the suffering half of pain and suffering. Like number 4 above, this can also be broken down into two subparts: past mental anguish and future mental anguish. Like your past pain, you will have to describe to the jury what type of suffering you went through in dealing with these injuries. Everyone is different and everyone has different worries, concerns, or stresses. These all come into play when you are going through your treatment for your injuries.
I always tell people that it is a good idea to keep a journal of events throughout your personal injury case that details your suffering so that you can give that information to your lawyer later. In arguing this element of damages, your lawyer needs to know what issues bothered you the most.
6. Inconvenience that you have felt in the past and that you will feel in the future
Again, this is another element of your damages that can be broken down into two subparts: past inconvenience and future inconvenience. Inconvenience typically means things that you have to do that cause you to deviate from your normal routine.
For example, getting up at 5 a.m. to go to physical therapy before work three days a week. That is an inconvenience. Making a special trip to the pharmacy for a prescription to help with your muscle spasms. That is an inconvenience. Having to take off work early to be seen by your orthopedic doctor. That is an inconvenience. Having to pay someone else to cut your grass or having a family member help you with your grocery shopping. Both are inconveniences.
These are all things that will happen during your treatment and perhaps after your trial. They are elements of your damages but the jury always struggles to put a dollar number on this one. Think about that and create list of your inconveniences.
7. Any disfigurement or deformity and any associated humiliation or embarrassment
This one seems obvious. If you have a permanent injury that qualifies as a disfigurement or deformity, then you are entitled to a dollar amount allocated to this type of damages. Not only to compensate you for your disfigurement, but also for the humiliation or embarrassment it causes. You see this more often in women than in men because a scar to most men is a badge of honor. But to women, a scar is embarrassing. It takes work to cover it up when you go out. These things really affect how you live your daily life. As a result, you get to claim that as a part of your damages.
How much this element is worth is a difficult question and I’ll answer by saying that everyone is different and that every jury is different.
Well, you asked how much is my personal injury case worth and I’ve given you about the best answer a lawyer can give. You have to evaluate each and every element of damages. In a jury trial, the jury is instructed to return a verdict that fully and fairly compensates you for the harms and losses I just listed. I always show the jury the relevant elements of damages with a blank off to the right. I tell them what my client is asking for and I write that number in the blank. Then, I tell the jury that they should go back into the jury room and do the same thing for each element of damages.
I’ve created a Harms & Losses cheatsheet for you if you want to calculate your own damages. Just click here. If the insurance company is not properly valuing your case, contact me for a free personal injury consultation.