What’s my accident case worth? This is a very good question and one of the most frequent ones we hear. While it is a question that almost all of our injury clients ask, it is not easy to answer, especially soon after the accident. The reason it’s hard to answer at that time is because of how a Massachusetts car accident case is valued. Valuing a personal injury case is estimating what a settlement amount might be or an amount of money damages a jury might return with a favorable verdict after a trial. In order to properly value a personal injury claim we must know the total amount of medical bills you incurred as a result of the accident, any lost wages, pain and suffering as well as any property damage to your car. So, soon after the accident you are most likely actively treating, continuing to experience pain and suffering and/or accumulating lost wages or earnings. Since we do not know what the total medical bills will be and what your prognosis is from the doctor, it is hard to properly value your injury.
Once you have completed treatment and have either fully recovered from your injuries or reached a medical end result, then we can begin to appropriately value your case by calculating your damages. “Damages” is just a legal term to describe your injuries and monetary compensation or the money you are paid for those injuries. There are many types of damages that an individual, who has been injured by a negligent or reckless party, is entitled to. The following three types of damages are the most common to Massachusetts car accident cases:
- Medical expenses/bills;
- Lost wages; and,
- Pain and suffering;
Medical expenses or bills are usually the first type of damages calculated. For example, assume you were stopped at a red light and another car negligently rear-ended you. As a result of the car accident you needed to be transported by ambulance to an emergency room of a hospital. You were discharged from the hospital and then followed up with your primary care physician, who referred you to a physical therapist. You treated with a physical therapist for 8 weeks and fully recovered from your injuries. We would need to get the bills from all the medical providers along with all expenses for medications and any medical devices or equipment you may have had to purchase in order to calculate the total amount of medical bills you sustained to begin valuing your case.
In the example above, you would seek to recover damages for medical bills and expenses you have paid or have become obligated to pay to treat your injury. The total amount of medical bills sought will be offset by the amount of bills paid by PIP.
Lost wages (or lost earning capacity) is another type of damages an injured party is entitled to recover. The injured party will have to reasonably calculate the amount of time missed at work due to the injuries from the car accident and what wages they would have earned if they could have worked. Remember, the intent of compensation in car accident cases is to make the victims whole or to place the injured person in the position he or she was prior to the accident. So, if you missed two weeks of work and typically worked 40 hours per week earning $10.00 per hour, then your lost wages claim would be $800.00 (80 hrs @ $10.00/hr). Now don’t forget, your own automobile insurance carries personal injury protection benefits (PIP) up to $8,000.00, which benefits include 75% of lost wages. Obviously, any PIP benefits received for lost wages will offset against your total lost wages claim.
Pain and Suffering
The pain and suffering you endured as a result of a car crash caused by someone else is also compensable in Massachusetts. Not only is compensation for the pain and suffering from the accident recoverable, but also any pain and suffering from any operation or surgery, which resulted from the accident. Determining an amount of money to compensate someone for pain and suffering is not easy. In fact, it is one aspect of damages that is routinely argued about between lawyers and claims adjusters in the negotiation process. There is no mathematical calculation to determine the amount of compensation for pain and suffering. This is why it is a good idea to keep notes on your day to day activities during your treatment including the things you cannot do and have trouble doing. This way, you can remember your level of discomfort and your physical condition to later use in negotiating a settlement or to tell a jury.
While some personal injury attorneys and claim adjusters use a multiplier (where they take the total medical bills and multiply it by two or three) or weeks of treatment at a fixed dollar amount to calculate pain and suffering damages, these are not a hard and fast rules. It is up to the injured party along with his or her injury attorney to arrive at a number that is fair and reasonable to compensate them for their pain and suffering.
These three elements of damages are not the only damages an injured person may be entitled to. It is, however, a good start to begin to value your accident case. So, if you have medical bills that total $5,000.00, lost wages of $800.00 and feel $5,000.00 is fair and reasonable for pain and suffering then you will estimate the value of your injury case to be approximately $10,800.00. Don’t forget though, PIP may have paid all or a portion of your medical bills and 75% of lost wages, so you must discount your damages for what you have already received. When trying to settle your personal injury claim you should initially demand more than what you would accept to give yourself room to negotiate by reducing your demand.
While these are three elements of damages to help determine what a Massachusetts car accident case is worth, a number of other factors are considered in determining a more approximate value of an accident case.