How Much is a Personal Injury Case Worth?

Personal Injury Case Worth

If you’re considering filing a personal injury lawsuit over a car accident, slip and fall, or any other kind of injury, you may be wondering, “what is my case really worth?” The answer comes down to determining what your “damages” are — in other words, figuring out what your injuries have cost you monetarily, physically, and mentally (and, in some cases, whether the defendant’s conduct should be punished).

In a personal injury case, money damages are paid to an injured person (the “plaintiff”) by the person or company who is found to be legally responsible for the accident (the “defendant” and/or their insurer). A damage award can be agreed upon after a negotiated settlement or may be ordered by a judge or jury following trial.

Below you’ll find an explanation of the different kinds of damages that are common in many personal injury cases and how a personal injury damages award can be affected by the plaintiff’s action (or inaction).

Compensatory Damages in Personal Injury Cases

Most personal injury damages are classified as “compensatory,” meaning that they are intended to compensate the injured plaintiff for what was lost due to the accident or injury. A compensatory damages award is meant to make the injured plaintiff “whole” again from a monetary standpoint (to the extent that’s possible). This means trying to put a dollar figure on all the consequences of an accident. Some compensatory damages, like property damage or medical bills, are fairly easy to calculate.  But it’s harder to put a dollar value on pain and suffering or the inability to enjoy hobbies because of physical limitations caused by lingering accident-related injuries.

Below are examples of different types of compensatory damages common in many personal injury cases:

  • Medical treatment. A personal injury damages award almost always includes the cost of medical care associated with the accident — reimbursement for treatment you’ve already received and compensation for the estimated cost of medical care you’ll need in the future because of the accident.
  • Lost income. You may be entitled to compensation for the accident’s impact on your salary and wages — not just income you’ve already lost but also the money you would have been able to make in the future, were it not for the accident. In personal injury legalese, a damage award based on future income is characterized as compensation for an accident victim’s “loss of earning capacity.”
  • Property loss. If any vehicles, clothing, or other items were damaged as a result of the accident, you’ll likely be entitled to reimbursement for repairs or compensation for the fair market value of the property that was lost.
  • Pain and suffering. You may be entitled to get compensation for pain and serious discomfort you suffered during the accident and in its immediate aftermath — also for any ongoing pain that can be attributed to the accident.
  • Emotional distress. Usually linked to more serious accidents, emotional distress damages are meant to compensate a personal injury plaintiff for the psychological impact of an injury — including fear, anxiety, and sleep loss. Some states consider emotional distress as part of any “pain and suffering” damage that is awarded to a personal injury plaintiff.
  • Loss of enjoyment. When injuries caused by an accident keep you from enjoying day-to-day pursuits like hobbies, exercise, and other recreational activities, you may be entitled to receive “loss of enjoyment” damages.
  • Loss of consortium. In personal injury cases, “loss of consortium” damages typically relate to the impact the injuries have on the plaintiff’s relationship with their spouse — the loss of companionship or the inability to maintain a sexual relationship, for example. Some states also consider the separate impact on the relationship between a parent and their child when one is injured. In some cases, loss of consortium damages are awarded directly to the affected family member rather than to the injured plaintiff.

Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases

In cases where the defendant’s conduct is found to be particularly egregious or outrageously careless, a personal injury plaintiff may be awarded punitive damages on top of any compensatory damages award. Punitive damages are awarded to an injured plaintiff in order to punish the defendant for its conduct and to discourage others from potentially acting in the same way the defendant did.

How Plaintiff’s Actions (or Inaction) Can Affect a Damages Award

In some cases, an injured person’s role in causing an accident — or their failure to act after being injured — can diminish the amount of damages available in a personal injury case.

Careful evaluation of an injured person’s specific case is required in order to understand the chances of whether potential damages resulting from a personal injury may be reduced.  For example, if you’re at fault (even partially at fault) for the accident that caused your injuries, it may be possible that any damages that could be awarded to you could be reduced or eliminated.  Also, the law in most states expects plaintiffs in personal injury cases to take reasonable steps to minimize or “mitigate” the impact of the harm caused by the accident. If an injured plaintiff just “sits back” when it isn’t reasonable to do so (e.g., by failing to get necessary medical treatment after an accident, and making their injuries much worse) a damages award might be reduced.