One of the most common questions asked by personal injury clients is: “what is my case worth?” When you’ve been injured in an accident, it’s only natural to worry about how you’re going to pay for your medical treatment, cover your living expenses, pay bills, and whether you’ll be able to enjoy life the way you did before the accident. This creates an understandable sense of urgency and the desire to know how much compensation you might recover in a personal injury lawsuit.
While this inquiry is perfectly reasonable, it is not always easy to answer with accuracy right after an accident.
Assuming you can establish the liability of the parties responsible for causing the injuries, the value of your claim will largely depend on the amount and extent of damages that you have suffered, from both an economic standpoint and non-economic standpoint.
Economic / Special Damages
Economic or special damages include some of the following:
- Medical expenses – this includes bills for past and future surgery, treatment, rehabilitation, therapy, etc.
- Lost income/wages – this is the dollar amount of the income you would have earned had you not been incapacitated by your injury.
- Future income – if you are impaired or disabled by your injury, you may lose future income, which may be pursued in a case.
- Other out-of-pocket losses – this may include copays, deductibles, transportation to and from doctor appointments and other costs.
- Property Damage – you may be able to seek compensation for damage caused to your personal property in an accident.
These damages are somewhat more difficult to calculate, but are at the very center of a personal injury case and typically comprise the largest portion of the damages. They must be very carefully presented, with supporting evidence and proofs. They include:
- Pain – pain is an immediate, intense sensation felt by a person when their physical or mental person is disturbed in some manner. For example, pain is felt when someone breaks their leg, undergoes a surgery, feels a twinge in their back, etc.
- Suffering – suffering is more of a long-term concept. Suffering occurs over a longer period of time after someone is injured and is unable to live their life in the same manner they did before an accident.
- Disability – someone is disabled when they cannot do something after an accident that they did before. For example, if someone cannot return to work after an accident, they are disabled.
- Impairment – someone is impaired when they can partially perform an activity after an accident. Thus, they can still perform the activity, but only in a limited manner, and not 100% like they did before the accident.
- Loss of enjoyment of life – this is the value of the someone’s life, as diminished by an injury, and requires a comparison of their post-accident life to their life before the accident.
Not all of these damages will apply in every case. Also, in New Jersey, where punitive damages are allowed, they are capped at $350,000 or five times the amount of the compensatory damages, whichever amount is greater.
Valuation Models and Methods
Despite the difficulty in assigning a dollar amount to non-economic damages, that is exactly what is required in personal injury cases. Thus, insurance adjusters, lawyers and other professionals use various methods to calculate these damages. The following are just two methods that exist. As a disclaimer, however, no two cases are alike, thus no single method can be exclusively relied upon in any case. Determining damages is an art and skill that takes time and experience to understand.
Multiplying your Economic Damages
This method takes the total of the injured person’s economic damages, and multiplies that figure by a multiplier between 1 and 5. The more serious the injuries, the higher the multiplier.
Time / Unit Method
Under this method, you start by determining the dollar value of the plaintiff’s injuries for 1 day. Then, you multiply that figure by 365 (representing 365 days in a year), then multiply that number by the numbers of years that the plaintiff is expected to live pursuant to the NJ state life-expectancy chart.
Note that New Jersey juries may take into account a plaintiff’s own comparative fault when forming a verdict. Thus, a plaintiff’s recovery may be reduced by the plaintiff’s own percentage share of comparative fault for the accident. And under NJ’s modified comparative fault scheme, plaintiffs who are found to be 51% or more responsible for an accident receive no recovery.