If you’ve been in an accident, you might be considering filing a personal injury claim to recover compensation, known legally as “damages.”
But how much compensation might you be looking at?
Unfortunately, there’s no “average” amount of compensation, as every claim is unique. The settlement you receive will depend on several factors, including the severity of your injuries, the strength of your evidence, and your attorney’s skill and experience.
However, understanding the different types of compensation you may be eligible for can help determine how much you might receive in a settlement or verdict.
The Different Types of Compensation
Most personal injury claims are resolved out of court, where both parties (you — the injured party — and the person or organization that caused the accident) agree to a settlement. In a tiny percentage of personal injury claims, both parties can’t agree to a settlement and may proceed to trial. During this process, a jury will deliberate whether the defendant is liable and — if they are — how much compensation you should receive.
Regardless of how the claim is resolved (whether by settlement or verdict), compensation will always include two types of damages.
As the name suggests, economic damages compensate you for the tangible financial losses you’ve suffered because of your injuries.
These types of damages have a dollar amount attached that can be proven by receipts or invoices, so they’re fairly straightforward to calculate.
Examples of economic damages include:
- Property damage, such as to your car after an accident
- Medical bills, including emergency room costs, transport to and from the hospital, and the cost of surgery and other treatment, such as physical therapy
- Lost wages from not being able to work.
As part of a compensation claim, you’re entitled to damages for as long as your injuries impact your life. For example, if you have reached the point of maximum medical improvement — meaning your injuries will not get any better or worse — but you still need treatment for several years or even the rest of your life, you’ll be entitled to recover the associated costs. These are a little more difficult to calculate, as you’ve yet to incur them, but a medical expert will be able to predict what treatment you will need, how long for, and how much it will cost.
Non-economic damages are designed to compensate you for the non-monetary losses you’ve suffered. These are more subjective, covering things such as pain and suffering, emotional anguish, loss of enjoyment from not being able to pursue hobbies or activities, and loss of companionship or consortium if you’ve lost a loved one.
While you can quite easily work out your economic damages before beginning settlement negotiations, non-economic damages don’t have a definitive financial value, so they can be trickier to calculate.
Every accident is unique and will affect those involved in different ways. Take the following example:
Two individuals both sustain a head injury in a car accident caused by a third driver, but while one recovers completely and has no lasting health problems, the other has long-term damage that affects their ability to communicate with others, causing them significant distress.
In this scenario, both individuals would be entitled to compensation for their injuries, but the victim who suffered long-term damage would likely receive more, both in economic and non-economic damages.
But how would non-economic damages be calculated?
There are two main ways of calculating these damages:
- The multiplier method
- The per diem method.
The multiplier method is the most common and involves applying a number of between one and five to the total economic damages. The more an injury has impacted an individual — such as if it will affect them for the rest of their life or caused irreparable damage — the higher this number will be.
To illustrate this with an example, if your economic damages total $50,000 and a multiplier of three is added, you will receive $150,000 ($50,000 multiplied by three).
The alternative is the “per diem” method, which comes from the Latin for “for each day.” It involves awarding a predetermined amount for each day an accident victim suffers. While most insurance companies opt for a multiplier, the per diem method can result in sizable compensation, especially if the victim is younger and sustains a life-altering injury, such as permanent paralysis.
A third type of damages is called punitive (or, in some states, exemplary) damages, but these aren’t available in all claims. Punitive damages can only apply if settlement negotiations fail and the case goes to court. If a jury delivers a liable verdict, they might choose to award punitive damages in addition to compensatory (economic and non-economic) damages.
Punitive damages are unique in that they are designed to punish a defendant. As such, they are more common in cases where a defendant’s behavior is particularly egregious, such as drink-driving.
If your claim is successful, you’ll always be entitled to economic and non-economic damages, but the question becomes, “How do I get the compensation I’m entitled to?”. Working alongside a personal injury lawyer in your state — for example, if you’re in Greenville, a personal injury lawyer in South Carolina — who knows the law and is experienced in your type of claim can ensure you get the economic, non-economic, and — if it comes to it — punitive damages you deserve.