Suffering a severe injury is a traumatic, life-changing experience. It may take months or even years to recover. In cases of permanent injury, the injured person will never return to their life as they lived it before the accident. On top of the physical and mental anguish, medical debt and loss of income may cause severe financial difficulties for an injured person and their family.
In cases where the accident was caused by the negligence of another party, the injured can pursue compensation via either settlement or court awarded damages. Both avenues have their merits. Many are tempted to accept the first settlement offer, and avoid the cost and drama of court, but this may mean leaving a considerable amount of money on the table.
To determine whether a settlement offer is fair, it’s important to know the value of a personal injury case or, in other words, how much a court of law is likely to award in damages. There are a few different kinds of damages, the monetary value of which are determined by multiple factors.
Compensatory and non-monetary damages
Generally, the two main kinds of damages are compensatory and non-monetary damages. Compensatory damages address injuries that can be quantified in a specific dollar amount, such as medical bills or loss of income.
Non-monetary damages address abstract injuries such as pain and suffering and mental anguish. Here there is no means of quantifying the hardship suffered in terms of dollars.
Determining how much a plaintiff is owed in compensatory damages is usually straightforward. The plaintiff can provide evidence in the form of a bill, pay stub, or any other formal document that states the literal cost of a certain hardship. This concrete evidence forms the basis for the amount of damages to be awarded.
Non-monetary damages are often more challenging to prove. Here, the plaintiff must often provide the testimony of an expert witness. For example, if they’re claiming pain and suffering a medical professional may testify; if mental anguish is the claim the statement of a psychologist may be necessary. Here the courts will look at the testimony of the expert, and prior, comparable cases, to determine how much money is needed to compensate the plaintiff.
In rare circumstances, the courts will award punitive damages. These damages – intended to punish the defendant – are only awarded if the defendant’s conduct was especially reckless. Punitive damages often involve a huge financial award for the plaintiff.
Although the above information is important to know, people seriously injured should always consult a personal injury lawyer before accepting a settlement offer or pursuing legal action. A lawyer has experience with many kinds of injury claims and can more accurately predict a case’s value.