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Calculating Damages in Personal Injury Cases

Car with damages from a car accident with personal injury claim.

Navigating the maze of personal injury damages

Whether it’s David v. Goliath, the “little guy” v. the big company, or some other metaphor for the uneven playing field, the personal injury victim/sufferer is at an obvious disadvantage when negotiating with insurance companies with nearly unlimited financial resources. They’ve also been using those resources for decades, honing their skills in denying your claims. One way they do this is by undervaluing your damages.

What are damages in a personal injury case?

In Washington State tort cases, two types of damages are potentially available:

  • Punitive damages: meant to punish the “bad actor” or at-fault party and are not always available in all cases.
  • Compensatory damages: aim to restore the plaintiff to their pre-injury state.

Damages in personal injury cases generally come down to special (referred to in some jurisdictions as “actual damages”) and general damages. The names of these categories can be a little confusing, but it generally comes down to tangible versus intangible, respectively. So, “special damages” are those that can be identified, like bills for medical treatment, invoiced amounts for repairs in a vehicle accident, etc. “General damages,” on the other hand, are for things we can’t touch – think pain and suffering. Special or Actual damages are relatively straightforward in determining values. If the medical bill was $100, the damage was $100. But what is pain worth? What is the loss of consortium of a spouse worth?

Because most tort claims settle out of court, these numbers are not always disclosed, so determining how much something like pain or loss of consortium is worth can be difficult. Attorneys need to build a narrative and form a framework.

One method is to look around for other systems with structures in place and then draw parallels. For example, let’s say a major airline has a policy that says passengers who get inadvertently bumped from their flight, causing them 3 or more hours of delay, will get $200. So if this inconvenience of a 3-hour delay is worth $200, what is it worth to spend every hour of your life in pain, or without the ability to hear, or without the love and affection of your spouse?

Additional factors affecting damage calculations

Additional factors to consider when determining damages can be easy to forget about. For example, in a motor vehicle collision, damages may include auto repairs but also ancillary costs such as rental cars or other transportation replacement costs. Someone may reach medical fixity or maximum improvement through treatment during the pendency of a claim, but what if they need ongoing treatment for life? These things should be carefully factored into damage awards.

How do courts determine personal injury claim damages?

When claims are settled, the parties use these and other elements to agree on damages. When a claim goes to trial, these become questions and scenarios posed to the jury, ultimately determining the award amount for damages.

How a personal injury attorney can help you

Whether you have a catastrophic injury and the contemplated damages are life-changing amounts, or you just had a fender bender, and the insurance adjuster is lowballing you, an attorney experienced in these matters can help you ensure you don’t get steamrolled. Chances are the claim you have or may have falls somewhere between those extremes, and hiring an advocate is the only way to attempt to even the playing field against the insurance company. Because insurance companies deal with so many claims, it’s worth it to them to fight tooth and nail over small amounts as well as larger claims.

Recently, we had a client who was struck while he and his wife were driving in their Tesla – a car they had saved up for and finally were able to afford. She was injured and went to the hospital; he was relatively uninjured, but their vehicle was totaled. The insurer offered over $10,000 less than the vehicle was worth without real justification or reason. They just didn’t feel like paying the full value of the vehicle they admitted was totaled. You wouldn’t expect upstanding companies whose commercials we watch on TV to operate like this, but they do…a lot. After all, if they can skim $10k off of 50 claims, that’s a half-million bucks! An attorney can help to ensure it’s not your $10k the insurance company is putting back in its own pockets.

Free legal consultation with a personal injury lawyer

Feeling like you’re in a David vs. Goliath showdown with insurance companies? Don’t go it alone. Whether you’re reeling from the impact of a fender bender or dealing with life-altering injuries, Carlisle and Byers are here to level the playing field so you feel empowered. We’re your partners and equipped with the wisdom and tenacity to fight for what you deserve.

Schedule a free consultation with Rich or Chris. You may also speak to someone now by calling (509) 228-7011.