What do I get asked most as a personal injury attorney in California? “How much is my case worth?” That's an impossible question to answer without taking a serious look at the core details of your case. And every case is different. There are far too many variables to come up with a quick and easy answer. However, there are several common factors in every personal injury case that can help victims, like you, understand what determines the amount of any potential personal injury award they may be entitled to.
Together with those factors, you also have to take into account the expenses associated with your individual case. So, for example, say your total award is worth $150,000 (which is not that substantial of an award at all for an accident involving serious injuries). You will not receive that entire $150,000. There will be expenses taken out of that award, expenses which include:
What's left over after those expenses have been deducted from your total personal injury claim award is what you'll actually pocket.
As you can see, it's impossible for any attorney to give you an accurate estimate of just how much you'll receive after a simple phone conversation or even after a short initial consultation. A good personal injury attorney will be able to give you a solid estimate and may even explain the awards given to clients who have suffered similar injuries and property losses in accidents similar to the one you've been involved in, but in order to get an accurate (and adequate) award figure your attorney will have to do a lot of investigation and many calculations.
So, in order to help you understand just how much you may get from a personal injury claim, let's dig a little deeper into how personal injury claims are calculated, what factors may increase those claims, what factors may decrease those claims, and what expenses come out of those claims.
There are five key factors that figure into how much your potential personal injury claim is worth. These include
Liability - Who is at fault for the accident?
Injuries - How large are your associated medical expenses?
Property Damage - What sort of monetary value can be assigned to your physical losses?
Loss of Earnings - How much work did you miss and how has your productivity been impacted by the accident?
Pain and Suffering - How did the accident impact everyday life? How long will those impacts last?
In order to better understand how a personal injury attorney will come up with an adequate claim figure, let‘s look at these five factors individually in more detail.
The primary factor that determines the base amount of your potential personal injury award is liability. That's a fancy legal term for "fault" and answering the question of who is liable for the expenses associated with your accident is essential. In some states, liability is a clear-cut assignment—whoever's actions directly caused the accident is determined to be 100% liable.
California law does not operate that way. California is what is known as a Comparative Negligence State. That means that under the law any party involved in an accident can be assigned a portion of the fault. So, for example, if the victim of an auto accident in California was traveling 5 miles per hour over the posted limit yet the driver who actually caused the accident ran a red light, both parties may be assigned a portion of the liability (usually expressed as a percentage). This is critically important because even if your actions contributed to the accident in which you were injured, the other party may still be liable for a large portion of your expenses.
Proving liability can be difficult though. If there is no concrete evidence (like traffic cam footage or eyewitness testimony) it may come down to your word against theirs. In short, having evidence to back up your story will help you establish liability and will, in the end, increase the amount of your personal injury claim.
Medical expenses will no doubt make up the majority of your personal injury claim. How badly you were hurt, how much of an impact those injuries had on your life, and how much doctors, hospitals, and therapists charged you to get you on the road to recovery will comprise the lion's share of this award.
But it's not always the immediate cost of your medical treatment that is the largest portion of this financial expenditure.
Indeed, serious injuries often result in long-lasting effects that may require weeks, months, or even years of treatment to heal. Some injuries may unfortunately never heal and may leave you with lifelong ailments, chronic pain, or even disabilities. All of these future expenses should be figured into the medical expense portion of your personal injury claim above and beyond the hospital bills you're currently faced with.
Keep in mind, if any part of your personal injury case is weak, your potential award may be limited. Indeed, if your injuries were relatively minor or you delayed seeking medical treatment after your accident, your need could be perceived as less than it actually is.
Confused about how to estimate the medical costs associated with your accident? Check out this post for more information about how to calculate medical damages in personal injury cases
The cost of repairing or replacing personal property damaged in an accident caused by another party is a very real, very calculable expense. In fact, this portion of your personal injury claim is likely to be the easiest part to prove. Simply put, it's what you have, will, or could pay to repair or replace any tangible thing that was damaged in your accident.
These expenses can include:
Keep in mind; these damages may also include damage to property that belongs to other individuals as well—such as passengers in your vehicle or even property damaged by your vehicle (mailboxes, etc.).
When calculating the potential value of a personal property replacement, it's important to remember that you will not receive the value you paid for the property when it was new. There will be a certain percentage of depreciation applied to these repair/replacement costs.
But it's not just direct expenses like medical bills and property replacement costs that the at-fault party can be held liable for. Indeed, they can be held responsible for the financial impact your accident has had (and will have) on your earnings.
Most victims of personal injury accidents in California know that they can be reimbursed for lost wages—the money you missed out on making while recovering. However, did you know that you can also seek compensation for the future financial impact that an accident may have? That's right. If your injuries have left you with lasting or even chronic consequences, your ability to earn a livable wage (or maintain the potential career track you were on prior to the accident) could be significantly impacted.
Having an experienced attorney calculate the future financial impact on your earnings is essential if you want to be compensated for the full effect your accident will have.
For more on how the law handles liability for lost wages, check out my video on loss of earnings in personal injury cases.
The legal term for what most victims call pain and suffering is “general damages.” These damages aren't direct, they can be difficult to calculate, and proving your need may require extensive case building on your part.
The types of things victims can include in the general damages portion of a personal injury claim include dollar figures assigned to:
You can even include more nebulous damages like the emotional stress your accident and the recovery process has placed on your personal relationships (such as marriage or domestic partnerships).
Need more information on the "intangible" components of your general damages claim? Check out this article on pain and suffering damages.
As you can see, coming up with an accurate estimate of how much you'll get for a personal injury claim is not an easy thing to do. If you speak to a Personal Injury Attorney who gives you a figure over the phone or in your first meeting without reviewing the details of your case, that lawyer is not painting you an accurate picture.
That's not to say that an attorney can't evaluate the basis of your case and advise you whether or not it would be wise to proceed with a personal injury claim. Indeed, if you're trying to figure out if you have a viable personal injury case, we can help with a quick and free case evaluation online now.
But it's not enough to know how much your potential personal injury claim is worth. You should also know how much of that personal injury settlement you'll actually get.
When you're asking an attorney "how much will I get from a personal injury claim?" you're not really interested in the total amount that your award is really worth. What you really need to know is how much of that money will actually end up in your pocket. And sometimes the answer to that question shocks victims.
So, after you've determined a fair and adequate personal injury demand, you need to deduct two major financial components:
The good thing about many attorneys' fees is that they're straightforward and easy to understand. The fees you'll be expected to pay will be laid out either at your initial consultation or shortly thereafter in the retainer agreement.
Usually, these fees are comprised of a base rate with additional hourly figures added on top. Sometimes attorneys' fees will be calculated as a percentage of your total award. And, here at Sally Morin Law, we never charge a fee unless we recover a financial award for you.
Many people who try to maximize their potential in-pocket award will often attempt to file a personal injury claim (either with an insurance company or in court) without seeking the legal advice or services of a qualified personal injury attorney. Doing so is completely within your rights but may not be advisable. Why? Because having a personal injury attorney on your side:
As mentioned above, the medical expenses you'll be saddled with after being injured in an accident often make up the largest portion of any potential personal injury claim. The total medical component of your claim is often comprised of two separate expenses:
Bills are just what you'd expect—bills submitted to you by hospitals, medical practitioners, and other services like ambulance companies and physical therapists.
Medical liens are legally binding "requests" for payment that ensure those medical providers will be paid when you have the funds to do so. Medical liens can be placed on any tangible piece of property you own (such as a home) and must be paid off just like any other bill, or else you'll face collections.
Both your outstanding bills and open medical liens will be paid off by your personal injury award before you see any of the money. While this decreases the overall amount of your settlement or award, it streamlines the financial recovery process and makes the act of receiving your award much simpler on your end. Essentially, by the time you have a check in hand, your debts have already been settled.
One powerful reason to hire a personal injury attorney in cases involving serious injury is that your lawyer can and will negotiate with medical service providers to decrease the overall amount you owe. That means you get to keep more of your potential award and pay less to the hospital.
Regardless of whether you choose to hire an attorney to calculate and fight for your personal injury claim, you should always consult with one prior to making a decision. And while you may not find out how much you'll get from a personal injury claim during that first conversation, you will get a better understanding of what an attorney can do for you and whether you have a case that's potentially strong enough to go to court.
If you have questions about the financial recovery process after you've been injured in an accident, or want to know how to maximize your personal injury claim, contact Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers and get your FREE online case evaluation now.