What's Your Case Worth?
What's my case worth? This is a question that many injured victims ask when considering whether to hire a personal injury attorney after a car accident, slip and fall, medical malpractice or any other kind of injury.
The answer to "What's my case worth?" comes down to many complex factors. The three major elements of a civil case are liability, damages and collectability. Liability concerns who is at fault. Collectability concerns the ability to recover assets or insurance from the defendant. Damages concerns the dollar value of the injuries and the resulting losses to the victim.
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This summary focuses on "damages" and the determination of what your injuries have cost you monetarily, physically, mentally and, in some cases, whether the defendant's actions should be punished ... these are called "punitive damages").
In a successful injury trial, monetary damages are paid to the injured victim (the plaintiff) by the person or company who is determined to be legally responsible for the injuries (the defendant). Many other times, damages can be agreed upon after a negotiated settlement among the parties, their insurance companies, and their attorneys. This can be the result of a mediation, which is a neutral process designed to encourage settlement of cases.
What is the Value of Your Case?
Determining the value of damages in your case depends on a variety of factors. First, economic damages in personal injury cases are intended to compensate the injured plaintiff for the financial losses due to the accident or injury. An economic damages award is meant to make the injured plaintiff whole, from a monetary standpoint. These damages are often divided into past and future damages. Past economic damages are easier to quantify. Future economic damages are more difficult to determine and are usually presented through expert testimony.
A large component of "What your case is worth" is your medical treatment. A personal injury damages claim typically includes the cost of past medical care associated with the injury and also the cost of medical care you'll need in the future because of the accident. Future medical care must be recommended by a medical professional at trial.
Loss of income also affects what your case is worth. If you have lost time at work, or earning capacity in the future, you might be entitled to compensation for salary and wages as well as lost employment benefits. Lost past income is easier to calculate if a doctor will relate the injury to the event. A damage claim for future income is characterized as an accident victim's claim of "loss of earning capacity" and must usually be presented at trial by a vocational expert and an economist.
Non-economic damages also affect what your case is worth. These damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and other areas of damages.
Determining Pain & Suffering and Distress
What is pain and suffering and how does it affect the value of your case? You may be entitled to get compensation for pain and suffering you suffered during the accident, since the accident and pain and suffering you may suffer into the future. There is no "rule" concerning pain and suffering value in personal injury cases. Some personal injury lawyers will evaluate case value on a multiple of the economic damages or medical bills. For instance, 2-3 times the value of paid medical bills. Other personal injury lawyers will use a per diem basis and try to assess a daily rate for pain and suffering. They may argue to the jury or insurance company that the value of the pain is $25 per day for the rest of the victim's life. Personal injury attorneys will use a life expectancy calculator that is prepared by the Census Bureau or Department of Labor.
Emotional distress may affect the value of your case. Emotional distress damages are for the purpose of awarding damages to a personal injury plaintiff for the mental impact of an injury. This may include fear, anxiety, and sadness/depression after the accident/injuries. Florida recognizes emotional distress as part of "pain and suffering" damages if there is a physical impact to a personal injury plaintiff. Loss of enjoyment of life is also a component of non-economic damages when the injuries caused by an accident keep you from enjoying daily activities, hobbies, exercise, and other actions or personal relationships.
Loss of Consortium
n personal injury cases in Florida, a spouse may make a claim as a result of the impact the injuries have on plaintiff's relationship with their spouse. This may include the loss of companionship or the impact on a sexual relationship. Florida also considers parental consortium, which are the damages on the relationship between a parent and their child when the parent is totally and permanently disabled.
Punitive damages may be awarded in certain cases. In Florida, for punitive damages to be awarded, the plaintiff must prove that “based on clear and convincing evidence,” that the defendant “had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury or damage…would result” or “that the defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanton in care that it constituted a conscious disregard of indifference to life [or] safety. However, Florida also places a cap on the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded. Under Florida law, an award of punitive damages in most cases may not exceed the greater of: Three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000. However, if the court finds the conduct of the defendant’s conduct was so egregious and “motivated solely by unreasonable financial gain and determines that the unreasonably dangerous nature of the conduct, together with the high likelihood of injury resulting from the conduct, was actually known…it may award an amount of punitive damages not to exceed the greater of: Four times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $2 Million. If a defendant has already been penalized with punitive damages in any state or federal court for the same conduct, application of punitive damages is barred, unless the court determines the punitive damages previously awarded were “insufficient to punish” the defendant’s conduct.
As this article illustrates, the questions "What's my case worth?" or "What's your case worth?" depend on many factors and there is usually a range of values. Because every jury is different, every plaintiff is different, and every accident is different, then every case value is different. If you have been injured and would like to speak to a trial expert about your case value, please call Warner, Sechrest and Butts today.