How Are Damages Assessed in a Personal Injury Case?

How Are Damages Assessed in a Personal Injury Case?

Assessing damages in a personal injury case can be challenging. It’s not as simple as adding up a plaintiff’s lost wages or medical bills (although these are important). Economic, non-economic, and punitive damages can all factor into the value of a claim. A skilled personal injury attorney knows how to accurately assess damages. Therefore, they can determine whether to accept a settlement or continue litigating and negotiating to fight for what you deserve.

Factors Used to Assess Damages

To fully assess damages, a personal injury lawyer must put time into investigating the accident. This is one of the most important steps of a personal injury case. Damages refer to the financial award the at-fault party owes you. To determine the economic and non-economic impacts you have suffered, your lawyer will look at:

  • The cause of the accident
  • Actions the defendant engaged in
  • How severe your injuries are
  • The impact on your current/future employment
  • The length of your recovery
  • Whether you suffered permanent disability
  • Pain, suffering, and emotional trauma
  • If the incident involved a fatality

Types of Damages

A personal injury attorney will first consider a reasonable amount of compensation for lost wages and other calculable losses. These are referred to as compensatory damages. They’re intended to help restore your health and emotional well-being, plus the financial security that was taken from you, all as a result of another person’s negligence or wrongdoing. Damages you may be awarded include:

Economic Damages

Various types of economic compensation can be awarded following a car accident, medical malpractice, a slip and fall injury, etc. The formula for calculating economic damages is straight-forward; it typically involves adding up the following:

  • Medical Costs: Receipts from hospital visits, ambulance fees, imaging, prescriptions, follow-up appointments, physical therapy, and other expenses are added up. Filing a claim for the full amount can get you reimbursed for the cost of treatment.
  • Property Damage: You can be compensated for the cost of repairing or replacing a vehicle damaged due to another party’s fault. Damage to your home or personal items can also be factored in. You could be reimbursed for the cost of anything from a laptop to your eyeglasses, or even clothing destroyed in the incident.
  • Lost Wages: If you took time off work to recover from your injuries, you can be compensated an amount equal to the wages you would have been paid. You could also be owed compensation to account for benefits you would have received during that time. And, if your future income-earning ability is affected, you could be compensated for lost earning potential.
  • Transportation: If your vehicle was damaged, you can be compensated for the cost of a rental car or taking public transportation. Economic damages can also include the cost of gas or the cost of transportation to doctor’s appointments.
  • Domestic Expenses: If you require help with daily tasks from, for example, a cleaning service, child care, food delivery, or in-home nursing care, the cost of these services can be included when assessing your economic damages.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are assessed using different formulas applied by insurance companies. Experienced personal injury attorneys are familiar with these. The multiplier method calculates a victim’s pain and suffering by multiplying their total medical expenses by a factor of 1.5 (for the least severe injuries) to five or higher for the most serious injuries. 

Or, the per diem method may be used to assign a daily rate for the plaintiff’s pain and suffering. It is multiplied by the number of days between the date they were injured and the date a doctor declares them to have reached maximum medical improvement. The more severe an injury, the higher the per diem rate.

It’s important to have a lawyer assess damages. The formulae used by insurance companies often mirror their goal to pay out as little as possible. Therefore, it’s likely they’ll use the most conservative figures they can, whether considering pain and suffering for physical injuries or:

  • Emotional Distress: You could be entitled to damages for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other negative emotional impacts following an accident.
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: If you lose your ability to take part in physical activities, hobbies, and other things that you used to enjoy, your attorney can fight for a “loss of enjoyment” award.
  • Loss of Consortium: A disability, loss of a limb, loss of eyesight or other sense, or permanent scarring can have negative impacts on a victim’s spousal relationship. This is another potential non-economic award in a personal injury lawsuit.

Non-economic damages can also be calculated based on the victim’s degree of fault for the accident, the responsible party’s level of fault, and available evidence.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and discourage them and others from engaging in the same type of actions again. Also called exemplary damages, they are rare in personal injury cases but can yield high payouts. The laws for using punitive damages and that cap maximum amounts differ in each state. There is no damage cap in California, except for medical malpractice cases, for which there’s a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages.

Punitive damages are more often awarded in wrongful death claims or homicides. They may be awarded in cases involving gross negligence (such as if a drunk driver causes an accident that results in severe injuries or fatalities), willful intent (a deliberate act causing another person harm), or criminal behavior. Punitive damages are usually determined by a judge based on the defendant’s actions rather than a calculation or standard.

What Factors Can Reduce Damages?

Calculating damages is one of the most complex parts of a personal injury case. Damage awards can be reduced with comparative negligence, in which the plaintiff’s award is reduced based on their degree of fault for an accident. Other factors that can reduce a payout include:

  • Failing to seek prompt medical treatment for an injury
  • Not following the treatment plan advised by a doctor
  • Refusing medical care or rehabilitation
  • Not seeking alternative forms of employment after losing a job
  • Failing to return to work after being medically cleared

Call Jacob for a Free Consultation

At The Law Offices of Jacob Emrani, our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys can help you get compensated for medical expenses, lost wages, and non-economic damages after an accident. Punitive damages may also be awarded in cases involving gross negligence or violent acts. Assessing damages requires evaluating the facts of each case and knowing how to negotiate with insurance companies. We’ve won millions of dollars in damages for personal injury clients. To request your free consultation and receive help getting the maximum compensation possible, call (888) 952-2952 today.

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