A personal injury compensation claim involves any accident in which you sustain injuries and for which you are not responsible. The injury may be physical, emotional, or financial. Applicable accidents include car accidents, slip and fall accidents, dog bites, workplace injuries, and negligence claims.
These are commonly referred to as damages, as the term encompasses the wide variety of ways an accident may impact you. There is no definitive calculator when determining damages, as there are numerous ways an accident impacts your life that do not come with a price tag.
What are Personal Injury Compensation Damages?
Personal injury compensation damages fall into many categories, including measurable items such as medical bills and lost wages. However, they also include items that are more difficult to quantify, such as pain and suffering and loss of future earning potential. In all, damages encompass the monetary impact of your injuries.
When determining damages with quantifiable costs, you consider the total cost. For example, damages for medical bills include payments for doctor visits, rehabilitation, medications, and specialists such as chiropractors. Lost wages include any time missed from work, due to injuries that keep you from work, but also time spent traveling due to the accident, such as visiting doctors or time spent in the hospital recovering.
Loss of future earning potential applies if injuries sustained in your accident prohibit or limit your earning power. For example, if you can no longer perform the same type of work, your attorney works with experts who perform calculations to determine what your lifetime income would have been had the accident not occurred.
It is much more difficult to calculate pain and suffering. If your injuries required substantial recuperation time, multiple surgeries, or resulted in permanent disability, scarring, or disfigurement, you deserve compensation for this. It also may include items such as loss of companionship, if your relationships with loved ones were negatively impacted. This is where formulas and multipliers enter the picture.
How Do You Calculate Damages?
After an accident, you and your attorney nearly always work with the responsible party’s insurance adjuster. Typically, this person uses the quantifiable damages for your claim as a starting point to calculate damages for pain and suffering. The adjuster then uses a multiplier to arrive at a settlement amount.
If the damages are minor, the multiplier can range from around 1.5 to 3 times your quantifiable damages. If injuries sustained in the accident were more serious, with long-lasting consequences, the multiplier may go as high as 5.
It’s important to note that the insurance adjuster works for the insurance company. His or her objective is settling your case for the lowest amount possible.
One final item entering the equation is level or degree of fault. If you are found to be at fault for the accident, or assigned a percentage of fault, such as 25 percent, then the settlement offer is reduced by that percentage. So, if the offer is for $10,000, the settlement offer would be $7,500 (10,000 minus 25 percent).
What Factors May Affect the Multiplier?
If the multiplier ranges can be between 1.5 and 5, what determines which multiplier the insurer uses for your claim? There is no definitive list, but there are factors that usually result in a lower multiplier. These include:
- A short recovery period and/or brief medical treatment
- Medical expenses were mainly for diagnosing injuries, not receiving treatment
- Medical treatment from alternative providers, such as chiropractors
- No emotional or physical problems resulting from the accident
- No permanent injuries
- No prescriptions related to treatment
- Sustaining soft tissue injuries, such as bruising, strains, and sprains
There are also factors that indicate a higher multiplier, including:
- Disruptions to daily life, including canceling a special event or vacation and missed schooling
- Distress, either physical or emotional, resulting from the accident or injury
- Sustaining hard tissue injuries, including head injuries, spinal injuries, broken bones, and nerve damage
- Long recovery periods or long treatment periods
- Permanent injuries, including scars, disability, loss of mobility, and loss of sight
- Taking prescription medication as a part of medical treatment
- Substantial medical expenses directly tied to treatment, not simply due to diagnosing injuries
It’s important to remember that the initial figure offered by the insurance adjuster is not a final offer but a point at which to begin negotiations.
What are Punitive Damages?
The two basic types of damages in a personal injury case are compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are what we list above: they compensate you for your injuries. Punitive damages are different; they seek to punish the defendant for the actions that caused the accident, such as gross negligence.
Punitive damages do not apply to every case. For example, a simple car accident typically results in compensatory damages only. Punitive damages only enter the picture if the at-fault driver displayed particularly negligent behavior, such as intoxication or blatant recklessness. They may also apply if the accident was caused by a manufacturer defect, such as faulty brakes, or if the injuries sustained were due to an issue such as an airbag failing to deploy.
Arizona courts only award punitive damages for particularly reprehensible conduct or when the defendant’s actions were deliberate. In addition, though punitive awards in some states are quite high, Arizona limits them, multiplying the compensatory award by a maximum multiplier of 10. Again, the defendant’s actions must be substantially egregious for punitive damages to apply in Arizona.
If you were injured in an accident, contact the team at Edwards & Petersen for a free consultation to discuss your case.