“How much is my car accident case worth?” At the end of the day, this is your number one concern if you have been injured in a car accident. After carefully explaining the particulars of how the incident happened and giving the attorney all of your personal background information, this is all you really care about. The intricacies of the legal dimensions at play in your case may interest you but will not impact your life in the way that meaningful monetary recovery can. Therefore, here is a simple framework that can help anyone start estimating how much a car accident case is worth.
Factors Influencing the Value of Car Accident Settlements and Verdicts
First, did you have any property damaged in the accident? This is a good place to start because often times it is very visible and clear-cut. Cars are the setting of these accidents and nine times out of ten one of them will be damaged. The insurance process sets out a clear way to recover your damages if you were not at fault. However, this does not relieve from the responsibility of claiming these damages in court.
To resolve this part of your claim or suit, you need to obtain estimates for necessary car repairs and calculate total losses. Also, the worth of any valuables inside the car at the time of the accident can be recovered if they were damaged. Normally, with personal property, you might not get the full value but you still should get some amount of money that approximates the cost of finding a suitable replacement.
Second, if you were injured and not at fault for causing the car accident, the cost of your medical treatment, prescriptions, and visits should be factored into how much you can claim and how much you actually recover in your eventual lawsuit. Also, it is important to remember that you should consider long-term medical costs as well as short-term medical expenses. Both are recoverable under Illinois law if you can demonstrate your healing requires them. It is not uncommon to seek hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for projected medical care 5, 10, or even more years out from a catastrophic car accident.
Third, most cases account for intangible forms of injuries including any injury that impacts your day-to-day functions and happiness. The general label for damages in car accidents that make up for a reduced quality of living is referred to as “pain and suffering.” Juries award plaintiffs significant pain and suffering damages caused by car accidents when the injury regularly affects their life or causes significant pain.
For example, neck and back injuries can cause victims substantial pain and suffering and litigation should recover for this. However, there are other kinds of non-economic damages that juries award plaintiffs for various kinds of harms. These may include loss of normal life, disfigurement, and other particular injuries. The key here is to examine how your life will be different prospectively because of the injury. In terms of dollar amount, it is not uncommon for non-economic damages-such as pain and suffering to mirror economic damages or even surpass them at levels of 200% or 300%. Amounts beyond those levels are rare, however.
Plaintiffs might recover punitive damages if the defendant’s behavior was particularly wanton, reckless or egregious. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future. For car accidents, conduct that might trigger punitive damages would include drinking and driving, driving at excessive speeds in a crowded area, or failing to maintain your vehicle in a safe manner.
Plaintiffs should always recover lost wages if they were forced to miss work or unable to attend to their investments due to injuries sustained in a car accident. Lawyers representing car accident victims might have to verify this lost income but rarely do plaintiffs fail to obtain these deserved sums even when defendants vigorously deny that the injuries kept the plaintiff from working.
Using the Above Information to Calculate a Settlement Value
So, “How much is my car accident worth?” Here is a calculation that follows what other plaintiffs recovered:
Step 1: Add all of your property damage.
Step 2: Add all of your short-term and long-term medical costs.
Step 3: If you have intangible injuries, multiply step 2 by 2. If not, skip to step 4.
Step 4: If the defendant’s conduct was also particularly egregious, multiply step 2 by 3 (only multiply by 2 if you skipped step 3).
Step 5: Add loss of income or investments.
This calculation should provide a good estimate of how much your case is worth. However, there are some things that might quickly raise your recovery amount. Here is a list of some of those things to watch out for as well as some other factors that heavily impact car accident recovery:
Additional Factors to Consider When Valuing Illinois Car Accident Injury Cases
- Vicarious Liability: In certain circumstances, you might be able to hold one person or entity liable for the actions of another. This is called vicarious liability. A common example of this situation is when an agent is acting for the benefit and under the control of a principle. More specifically, if someone is working for an employer at the time they cause a car accident, the employer could be liable for the actions of the employee if that person was acting within the course of his or her employment. In other words, if they were going to a meeting, making a delivery, or in any other way in the process of working when the crash happened, then the employer would be on the hook for all injuries the plaintiff might sustain. This theory of liability is known as respondeat superior. The main reason why this is important is that it opens up another source of payment for your damages. You might secure a victory in court against a defendant but that does not mean that person will have the financial wherewithal to actually pay the judgment. Typically, a corporate employer will have more resources at its disposal to provide for the compensation you deserve after an injury in a car accident.
- Multiple Injuries: A careful review of jury awards and case settlements across Illinois and the country reveals that whenever plaintiffs claim and successfully prove that multiple injuries arose from the car accident in question, their recovery tends to increase at a multiple proportionate to how many injuries there were. Why? The reason for this might be that juries do not know how to sufficiently distinguish between the severity and cost of each injury so they award equal merit to each.
- Denial: One common trend that runs throughout the car accident case literature at the state and national level is denial. Even when culpability is clear, even when defendants have no possible way of justifying their behavior, they normally always deny that the injuries exist to the extent the plaintiff claims they do or deny that the crash was the real origin of their harms. Repeatedly, they counter that the plaintiff’s pre-existing injury or condition contributed or created the injury in question when trying to deny recovery. At this point, it comes down to which side can present the best expert evidence buttressing their arguments.
- The Blackbox: This term is normally used to describe the phenomenon where juries decide and award verdicts. They are supposed to listen to the merits of cases and follow jury instructions when analyzing cases but often times they rule based on prejudice, emotions, and dramatics. From this, and after analyzing car accident case jury awards and settlements, it is not uncommon to see higher-than-average verdicts when the injury is severe, the effects will be felt for a long time, or the person actually dies, even when the plaintiff might have been partially at fault for their own death. The gravity of sympathy seems to pull the men and women of the jury towards compensating victims. One related issue to this discussion is that juries are supposed to apportion 100% of the fault between the plaintiff and defendants. Then, the former’s recovery is lowed by his or her percentage of responsibility for the crash. However, there are no real clear guidelines as to how juries are supposed to arrive at these figures, important as they are. Also, juries do tend to compromise. That is, in times where the plaintiff was seriously injured but also at fault, they might give a high award but split fault thereby significantly lowering the plaintiff’s recovery but also leaving a sizeable amount on the table. The lack of formal rules around this process and the jury’s tendency to follow passion suggests that plaintiffs’ attorneys should make a compelling argument that their client was harmless and the wrongdoer was completely at fault.
- Timeframe: One very practical consideration regarding plaintiffs’ recovery in car accident litigation is the timeframe. Put simply, it might take awhile. The average case length ran between 3 to 5 years from the time of the original incident. Of course, plaintiffs have two years in Illinois to file an action, per the Statute of Limitations. However, keep in mind that these cases are complex. Proving fault, illustrating medical injuries, calculating damages, and rebutting contributory negligence all take a long time. Therefore, you should account for this when considering when to initiate a lawsuit.
- Battle of Experts: Shockingly, many defendants fail to offer expert witnesses to counter plaintiffs’ expert testimony and evidence establishing liability and damages. In these cases, the juries are left with no decision but to side with the party that offered expert information. Of course, in certain situations, plaintiffs must proffer expert testimony but it is shocking to see the paltry responses that many defendants give. In these circumstances, plaintiffs typically receive higher than average recoveries.
- Game-changers: There are some injuries and issues that are game-changers in car accident litigation. These include disfigurement, scarring, permanent loss of a bodily function, the development of a chronic condition, or the need for surgery. With these issues, juries tend to award large amounts of compensation for intangible categories of damages including pain and suffering, loss of normal life, and loss of services. The exact amount depends on the facts and circumstances of the case but it is also really dependent upon the picture of suffering the plaintiff’s lawyer can draw.
- Intoxication: One consistent multiplier of awards in car accident cases is intoxication. Of course, it is illegal to drive drunk in Illinois. Thus, defendants who drive after drinking are per se negligent because they are violating statutes by doing so. Also, even when faced with contributory negligence on behalf of plaintiffs, juries often place almost all of the blame on the drunk-driving defendant. Additionally, this is one category of cases where punitive damages are common and generously given. This additional source of compensation can greatly add to a plaintiff’s recovery because like with other non-economic damages there are no clear standards defining their award. Thus, juries are left to their own devices and the arguments of lawyers to determine how much to give!
An Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Can Add Value to Your Case
Learn More About the Precedent for Valuing Specific Injuries
Here are links to pages describing the value of specific injuries in car accidents: