In order to get a settlement or verdict after a car accident, the insurance company and jury will consider your “damages.” Damages refer to the amount of money that the plaintiff has incurred to cover what they have lost. Basically, the amount of money to fully compensate the victim had the accident never occurred.
Compensation for damages, and the resulting negotiations with the insurance company, will require gathering evidence, speaking to witnesses, and figuring out which type of damages are most applicable to the unique case. If you have been injured in a car accident, you may benefit from consulting an experienced car accident lawyer to make sure your claim includes everything you are entitled to.
The two primary categories of damages are “Economic” and “Non-Economic.”
Economic damages are also referred to as “special damages,” and are based on specific losses. If you’ve handled a few car accident cases, you’ve likely her and adjuster ask, “what are the specials in this case.” The adjuster is basically asking for the hard costs incurred, and is wanting to know the total medical bills and lost income.
Non-economic damagers are often referred to as “general damages,” and are based on subjective factors. The most common example here is “pain and suffering.” Pain and suffering doesn’t have a price listed, but is a cost people incur after an injury car accident.
The following types of damages are recoverable in personal injury lawsuits following car accidents:
Under Oklahoma law, economic damages are damages that can easily be tied to a dollar figure and presented to a third party. Economic damages include:
Loss of wages
Generally, you can recover lost wages if you were injured in the accident and were forced to miss work as a result. This includes your paid time off as well. Note that the lost wages claim is limited to the time off from work related to the injury and medical treatment. For example, if you’re unable to work the first month after the wreck, while you are recovering, or you have to take off work two hours early three days per week, this is included in your lost wages claim. Time spent on the legal case is not included. Examples of this would include having to miss a full day of work while you are at your deposition.
Past, or Incurred, Medical bills
If you are involved in a car accident, you are entitled to recover for medical bills that are a result of the accident. While this sounds straight forward, the insurance company is going to limit this amount as much as possible my using various strategizes to claim that the bills are duplicative, excessive, not needed, or the treatment went on for too long. Basically, the insurance company is playing “Monday Morning Quarterback,” after the fact, and critiquing how your doctors handled your course of treatment.
Organizing medical bills can be cumbersome because going to one hospital will often include more than three different companies because the hospital, doctors, diagnostic providers, and hospital pharmacist, are all actually different providers, and will have separate billing providers. These bills often include:
- Ambulance bills
- Hospital costs
- Hospital doctor bills
- Diagnostic provider costs
- Doctor’s visits
- Physical therapist bills
- Surgeon bills
- Prescription/Pharmacy (often more than one)
- Medical device costs
- At-home care and over the counter costs
Future lost wages
Serious car accidents can sometimes result in the person involved being left incapable of fully returning to their previous jobs, or any work at all. It’s possible to make a future lost wages claim to account for this change in employment and future reduced earning capacity.
Future medical bills
Similar to the medical bills already incurred, future medical costs should be included in any personal injury damages claim. A doctor can provide a future medical costs care plan; if for example, a recurrent surgery is likely needed every 10 years.
Property damage to your car is relatively easy to calculate. This is what it costs to repair your car, or if a total-loss, what the fair market value, at the time of the wreck, your car is worth. If your car is repaired due to the wreck, a claim for diminished value should also be included.
Non-economic damages should also be awarded to an injured individual. Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of activities
- Physical impairment
There is no “formula” to calculate non-economic damages and the award varies from person to person. The amount of non-economic damages awarded is determined by a jury, who may rely on their own experiences to put a value on the harms and losses. The jury may consider the type of injury, the pain and suffering, and what the injured victim had to go through due to the wreck.
Punitive damages may be awarded for the purpose of punishing the party that either intentionally or recklessly did something to cause harm to another person. Before getting to the punitive damages calculations, a jury must first find in favor of the plaintiff and grant economic damages.
The jury decides if the plaintiff qualifies for punitive damages based on if the conduct of the at-fault party was either in “reckless disregard” of the plaintiff’s rights and the other party was aware of that or if they did it “intentionally.” Since it is based on the conduct of the at-fault party, the plaintiff has the burden of showing that the other party was acting in this type of manner. It is important to know that punitive damages are rarely awarded.
The most common cases where punitive damages are awarded in car accident cases are with drunk drivers and road rage.
Role of an Attorney
The role of an attorney is to increase the amount of money the client receives by hiring that attorney. It doesn’t make financial sense to hire an attorney if it doesn’t increase the client’s bottom line. The attorney’s job, then, is to increase the settlement or case value by making sure everything is included in the insurance company’s damages calculations, and providing an incentive (pay full and fair amount now, or deal with the lawsuit) for the insurance company to settle the claim.
There are many ways in which a lawyer can help an individual recovering the full amount for their car accident damages. After being retained, an attorney maximizes the chances for full compensation by gathering as much evidence, as early as possible, and including everything that factors into increasing the settlement value. Lawyers can help do this by making sure everything related to the accident is properly documented, throughout the case, and holding the insurance company responsible by filing a lawsuit if the company doesn’t want to be fair.