After you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident (or other type of accident), you may be thinking about filing a personal injury claim.
You know that you need help covering the costs of the injuries, but you may not know how much you can receive from your claim.
At Martinson & Beason, P.C., the question of how much a personal injury claim is worth is one of the most common questions we receive from clients.
Every claim is different because the facts, injuries, and insurance coverage involved are different. Because of this, it’s impossible for any lawyer to give you an exact value. However, there are number of set factors that will affect how much your claim is worth.
We discuss these factors below. If you have questions about any of these factors or any other aspect of your case, please don’t hesitate to contact Martinson & Beason, P.C. to speak with an experienced Huntsville, AL personal injury lawyer during a free consultation.
Before a personal injury claim can be made, it must be determined that the person who caused your injuries—the defendant in the claim—is legally liable for them. This means he or she can be legally held responsible.
If the defendant’s conduct was intentional, or done on purpose, he or she may be liable. The defendant assaulting you, for example, would be an example of intentional conduct.
Even if the actions were not intentional, the defendant may still be held liable if his or her actions were negligent. Negligence means that the defendant’s actions wouldn’t be performed by a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances. An example of negligence would be running a red light.
Liability is not always black and white, and it can be difficult to establish. In some cases, such as when the plaintiff is injured while playing a sport or engaging in another recreational activity, the defendant will try to argue that he or she is not liable for the injuries under the “assumption of risk” doctrine. This doctrine states that a defendant is protected from liability if the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly accepted the risks of the activity he or she participated in.
Someone can be held liable even if he or she wasn’t actually present at the time of your injuries. For example, an employer can be held liable for the actions of his or her employees. If your injuries were caused by a defective product, the manufacturer or seller can be held liable. And if your injuries were sustained in a car accident caused by an improperly maintained road, the government agency or its contractors responsible for maintaining the road can be held liable.
Determining liability is the first and most important step in proving and valuing your case.
Fault is a very important factor in your personal injury claim.
Alabama law operates under a system of contributory negligence. This means that an injured person is prohibited from recovering damages through a personal injury claim if he or she was partially responsible for the accident that caused the injuries. If a car accident is caused by a driver making a left turn into oncoming traffic, for example, that driver would likely be at fault for any injuries and damages. However, if the other oncoming driver was speeding—and the accident could have been avoided if the driver had obeyed the speed limit—that driver would be partially at fault for the accident. As a result, he or she would not be able to collect.
Alabama is one of the few states left in America that uses this system. Most other states use a system of comparative negligence, which means that the injured person’s recovery can be reduced based on his or her amount of fault. (If he or she is 25 percent at fault, the claim would be worth 25 percent less.)
The only exception to this system is when the defendant’s actions were “wanton,” meaning that he or she recklessly disregarded the safety of others. Drunk driving is an example of wanton behavior.
Like liability, fault isn’t always clear. This is why it’s important to talk to your lawyer about how fault could affect your case.
In addition to establishing that the defendant is at fault or is the cause of the accident, you also have to establish that the accident at issue caused your injuries.
In some cases, it’s obvious that the accident caused someone’s injuries. For example, if a motorcyclist is traveling through an intersection on a green light and another driver runs a red light and strikes the plaintiff’s bike, causing them to be thrown from the bike and fracture his or her leg, it’s easy to relate the broken leg to the accident.
However, establishing that the accident proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries becomes difficult when the plaintiff has a pre-existing injury. An example would be a person who is involved in a rear-end accident and has neck and back pain after the accident; however, prior to the wreck, he or she also suffered from neck and back pain. In this situation, the plaintiff has to distinguish the pain and problems he or she is having now from the problems prior to the wreck.
In some cases, more than one person may be responsible for your injuries.
The economic damages that you sustained is a major factor in how much your claim is worth. Economic damages are damages that caused you to lose money or property. They include medical expenses, lost wages, and property loss.
In a personal injury claim, you may be reimbursed for past and future medical expenses associated with your injury. Past medical expenses are straightforward and are not usually complicated to prove: you would need to show the medical bills that you have received.
Examples of medical expenses include the cost of an ambulance ride, emergency room treatment, costs for your hospital stay, diagnostic tests, surgery costs, medication, rehabilitation, counseling, and more.
Proving future medical bills is more complex. It may require the testimony of a doctor or medical expert to show that your injuries will continue to cost you.
The amount that you can receive from your claim often depends on the severity of your injuries. If you have a sprain and soft tissue injuries (bruises, cuts, etc.), your medical bills will likely be lower, and your claim will likely be worth a smaller amount. However, if your injuries are chronic or were extremely serious—requiring surgery or resulting in a temporary or permanent disability—your claim may be worth more.
If you missed work and lost income as a result of your injuries, you can be compensated. You can also recover the income you will lose in the future as a result of your injuries.
Medical records can help prove the extent of your injuries, while pay stubs can help prove lost income. In order to prove that your injuries will affect your ability to earn the same level of income in the future, your case may require testimony from experts, like an economist.
Like medical expenses, the amount of your lost income will directly impact how much your claim is worth.
If your accident involved damage to your property—such as your car or clothing—you may be reimbursed for what it costs to repair or replace the property.
Property loss is often an important aspect of car accident claims. In a car accident, the at-fault driver is supposed to pay for repairs or replacement of your vehicle. However, if the at-fault driver in your case doesn’t have insurance, you can make a claim on the collision coverage on your own auto policy to pay for the repairs, if you have this coverage.
To come up with an estimate of the costs to repair your vehicle, an insurance adjuster works with a repair shop. If the cost to repair your vehicle is higher than a set percentage of the vehicle’s fair market value (usually 50-75 percent), the insurance company may declare your vehicle totaled and send you a check of its fair market value.
It’s important you know that you don’t have to accept the insurance company’s decision on the fair market value of your car. If you think the company undervalued your vehicle, you should speak with an attorney.
Pain & Suffering and Emotional Distress
Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages do not involve monetary loss and are more subjective.
However, they are serious effects of an accident that deserve compensation. These effects can be life-changing: the pain and suffering and emotional distress that come from an injury can prevent you from enjoying hobbies and result in embarrassment, depression, and anxiety.
Because they are not objective, the amount of non-economic damages awarded can vary wildly among cases. Your lawyer may be able to give you an estimate of the non-economic damages that you can expect based on the facts of your case and awards in cases similar to yours.
Loss of Consortium
If you are married, and your marriage has suffered as a result of your injuries, you may consider filing a loss of consortium claim in addition to a personal injury claim.
A loss of consortium claim can be brought by the husband or wife of the injured person. Under this claim, the spouse can be compensated for the loss of companionship caused by the injuries. Loss of companionship can include loss of sexual relations, comfort, services, financial support, and more.
Although the loss of consortium is directly related to the personal injury claim, the two claims are brought separately. It is usually wise, however, to begin them at the same time, since the evidence in the claims typically overlap.
Punitive damages, unlike other types of damages, are specifically designed to punish the wrongdoer and act as a deterrent for others.
Punitive damages will only be given if the defendant’s behavior was particularly bad—going beyond simple negligence. If the defendant purposefully acted with wantonness or fraud or intended to cause you harm, you may receive this type of damages.
Each state has its own laws regarding how much may be awarded—as well as whether or not punitive damages may be awarded at all. Under Alabama law, punitive damages are capped at three times the amount of compensatory damages (the types of damages above) or $1.5 million.
Alabama is a “fault” state, which means that fault affects how and in what way compensation is paid. This also means that the amount of insurance coverage that the defendant has will affect your claim.
All drivers in Alabama are required to have auto insurance. State law mandates minimum insurance requirements:
Alabama law requires every automobile insurance policy sold in the state to include uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM); however, this coverage can be removed from the policy of insurance if the named insured signs a written rejection of coverage, which we would strongly advise against. For more information on uninsured motorist law in Alabama please see our UM/UIM page and our video “What To Do if the Driver at Fault Does Not Have Insurance”
If you are injured in an accident, you can file an insurance claim with the at-fault defendant’s insurance company. Unfortunately, if your claim is more than the defendant’s insurance policy limits, his or her insurance carrier is only responsible for paying the maximum amount of his or her coverage, which means the defendant would then be personally liable for any excess. While you could attempt to collect the excess from the defendant personally, the likelihood of collecting this excess judgment is often very low. The better approach is to make a claim on your underinsured motorist coverage on your own auto policy.
Personal injury claims are complex and confusing to navigate, particularly when you are still trying to get back on your feet. If you have been in any type of accident and have questions about your claim, please contact the personal injury lawyers at Martinson & Beason, P.C. in Huntsville, Alabama, today.