Before embarking on a personal injury lawsuit, you probably want to know if the potential reward is worth the effort. You must make sure you are sufficiently reimbursed for your damages. Remember that a personal injury suit is not about getting rich quickly. At its core, a personal injury suit strives to give a reasonable amount of money to a deserving party.
Many of us simply trust lawyers to work out the details, hoping that they know which dollar amounts are acceptable in a civil case. To an extent, this is true. Your attorney is a professional who understands the law and knows which cases are reasonable and which are frivolous.
However, you are undertaking a civil case alongside your lawyer. It is helpful to educate yourself on what you can expect to gain by winning. In this article, we will provide a beginner’s level understanding of how compensation is calculated in a civil trial. The first thing you should know is this: There are no hard-and-fast rules or calculations for lawsuit damages. Each case is different, and your reward completely depends on the details of your accident.
There is a misconception that civil courts either blame one person for everything, or they blame no one. This is false. Personal injury law openly embraces the idea that, even if you are the plaintiff, you can be at least partially responsible for your own injuries. With that understanding in mind, different states use different models to address this fact. California uses a “comparative negligence” system.
Comparative negligence assigns a numbered percentage of blame to both the plaintiff and the defendant. If the case shows that the defendant is completely responsible, then the plaintiff is 0% liable for their injuries. This, however, is an unusual scenario. Normally, courts will scrutinize the plaintiff’s deeds and find them at least partially responsible.
For example, a parking lot should be free of dangerous, slick areas where someone could slip. If someone does, the business can be held liable for those injuries. Imagine, however, that the plaintiff was doing stunts in the parking lot, backflipping and sprinting. If they hit this slippery area because they were not paying attention, they may be held somewhat liable for their injuries.
A plaintiff’s compensation is directly related to their percent of fault. If they are 30% responsible for their injuries, they can receive only 60% of the total damages. To put it another way, a defendant is responsible for paying only their portion of fault.
Let’s look at this system in action. In our above example, the parking lot stuntman is held 30% accountable for his injuries. The business, the court rules, should have had a safer parking lot, so they are 60% liable for the accident. The total amount of damages is $100,000. Therefore, the plaintiff is awarded $60,000, which is 60% of the total damages and the defendant’s percent of liability.
California is one of only a handful of states that allows “pure” comparative negligence. Even if a defendant is 99% responsible for their injuries, they can receive 1% of the total damages.
When considering how much you can receive in a civil lawsuit, you must honestly evaluate your own behavior. Were you completely innocent, with no way to avoid your injuries, or did your actions contribute to the overall accident? Ultimately, it will be up to the court to decide how responsible you are, but you should be genuine in your self-assessment. If you think that you probably caused the accident, even by only 50%, you must factor that into what you can expect to receive.
Remember that you must pay your legal team for their work. Often, you will hear attorneys advertise, “We won’t receive money unless you do.” This is great for plaintiffs, and it’s an excellent motivator for your legal team. It also means that your attorneys will receive a significant portion of your compensation. Every law office is different, but you can expect to give them about half of your compensation when you win. Take this into account when considering your overall reward.
Now that we’ve discussed compensation in general, theoretical terms, we can begin discussing how much you can actually get in a lawsuit. First off, you can have your medical bills compensated. Since you are not responsible for your injuries, the law says, you should not be responsible for paying for them. Any money you spent for your treatment can be reimbursed. Furthermore, if your injuries require more treatment in the future, that cost can be included in the final damages.
Property Damage Compensation
Depending on the nature of your injury, you could be entitled to property repairs. In a car accident, for example, your repairs could be covered. Animals, by law, are considered property as well. If your pet was injured in an accident, you may be able to recover veterinary bills.
Injuries disrupt our lives in a variety of ways. Often, you miss work while you recover. If the injury is severe enough, you could deplete all your sick time, causing you to lose money. You may be forced to resign, meaning that your income flow stops altogether. Perhaps you retain your job, but your injuries make you unable to further your career. Lost income, both the money you directly lost and the loss of potential earnings, can be compensated in a lawsuit.
Pain and Suffering Compensation
People are often unsure about what pain and suffering damages are. It isn’t entirely clear how they help, since they cannot make your injuries better. Essentially, it’s a way of giving you more financial justice for your misery. The law believes that you deserve more than just having your bills paid, and the defendant deserves to give you more money.
Ultimately, the amount of pain and suffering you can request is a matter of opinion. Your legal team suggests a figure they believe is fair, and they negotiate with the opposing side. To justify the amount requested, attorneys can use different models.
The Per Diem Model
“Per diem” is Latin for “per day.” If the injury was short-term, your lawyers may request compensation for each day you were in pain. Lawyers often use your daily income to determine this figure. Let’s say that, after taxes, you make $165 a day at work. If you were in pain for 35 days, your lawyers might ask for $5,775 ($165 x 35) for pain and suffering damages.
The Multiplier Model
This model is a form of “total compensation,” often used for those who suffered permanent injury or disfigurement. Put simply, your team will take the total cost of your medical bills, including future treatments, and multiply it by a number from one to five. The product is the total pain and suffering amount they request.
The multiplier number is dependent on the extent of your injuries. If you develop a bit of a limp, for example, your lawyers may use the number one, essentially asking the defendant to pay your medical expenses twice. If you were permanently paralyzed from the neck down, however, your attorneys will probably use the number five. Suffering, however, is relative. Imagine you were a professional dancer, and a limp ruins your career. This could be cause for your legal team to use five instead of one.
Civil courts do not put people in jail. In fact, they aren’t necessarily there to punish someone. They are, ostensibly, there to compensate deserving plaintiffs. However, if a defendant’s actions were particularly egregious, the state can order them to pay “punitive damages.” This compensation is designed specifically to punish someone financially. You see this in cases where the defendant was grossly negligent, meaning they showed no regard for the plaintiff’s safety. Also, punitive damages are often placed on a defendant who intentionally, maliciously harmed the plaintiff.
Estimating Your Compensation
Considering all the information above, you can develop a broad estimate of what you can expect to receive in a lawsuit.
- Total your medical bills.
- Total your property damage repairs.
- Total the amount of income you lost in recovery along with future earnings you may have lost.
- If you believe you are entitled to pain and suffering damages, consider if you deserve a per diem amount or multiplied amount. After calculating this amount, add Steps 1 – 4 together.
- Consider comparative negligence. Imagine ways the defense could accuse you of causing the accident. Think of your percent of fault. Give yourself a percent. Multiply this decimal by the total you reached at Step 4, then subtract this number from the total you reached in Step 4.
- Finally, take the total you reached in Step 5 and divide it by two for your attorney fees. Your leftover number is your estimate for how much you may be able to receive in a lawsuit.
If you need help seeking compensation for your injuries, call us today at (607) 228-8404 or contact us online.