Calculating Total Damages in Car Accident Claims & Lawsuits
A car accident victim may need to deal with a broad range of injuries and financial burdens. Correspondingly, they may be able to recover many types of damages. These are usually divided into two main categories: economic damages (sometimes known as special damages) and non-economic damages (sometimes known as general damages). While economic damages account for objective financial losses, non-economic damages relate to more subjective forms of harm. Medical expenses and lost income are common examples of economic damages, while pain and suffering is the most common type of non-economic damages.
You may want to know how to calculate the value of your claim so that you can decide whether an insurer’s settlement offer is fair. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut way to calculate damages, and damages in each case depend on numerous different factors. Some insurers will use a victim’s economic damages as a basis for calculating the overall award, multiplying that figure by two or three to account for non-economic damages like pain and suffering. This method is arbitrary, however, and you should not assume that an insurer will rely on it. Your attorney may be able to give you a rough estimate based on their experience.
This may seem like a straightforward type of damages to calculate. In some cases, though, disputes can arise over the necessity of certain medical treatments. An insurer only needs to compensate a victim for treatments that are reasonable and necessary. If the victim suffered an aggravation of a pre-existing condition, this also may give rise to a dispute because it can be hard to separate treatment required by the accident from treatment that would have been required anyway because of the pre-existing condition. An insurer may respond skeptically to a claim in which the victim did not seek medical treatment soon after the accident but only reported the symptoms later. It is true that some injuries are not identified immediately, but the victim may need to work harder to establish the causation element of the claim.
Medical expenses can extend beyond the costs of treatment to prescriptions, mileage traveling to doctor’s appointments, medical devices, therapy appointments, and any similar costs associated with the accident. This category of damages also can cover the future costs of medical treatment, as long as they are reasonably ascertainable.
Sometimes a victim’s health insurance provider will initially cover the expenses related to injuries caused by a car accident. If the auto insurer’s liability is established, the health insurance provider may seek reimbursement from the auto insurer, which has the primary responsibility for covering these costs.
Lost Wages and Earning Capacity
An accident may prevent a victim from doing their job for a certain time while they recover. For example, perhaps you suffered a back injury that prevents you from lifting objects, which you need to do at work. If you need to spend three months recovering at home, you can get compensation for your lost income during those three months. You will need to submit clear documentation of your lost wages, most likely paychecks and evidence of any non-salary benefits. People who are self-employed may need to provide invoices or other materials showing what they would have expected to earn during that time.
Lost earning capacity can be more complex to prove. This covers any permanent impact of the accident that undermines your ability to work in the future. Even if you are able to work to some extent, you may be able to recover damages for lost earning capacity if you are forced to work in a lesser-paying position because of your injuries. You can submit paychecks from before and after the accident to show the reduction in your salary, but you also may need to retain an expert to explain the effect of the injuries on your career.
Pain and Suffering
Everyone experiences an accident differently, and the degree of pain that a victim endures can be hard to quantify, as can the mental anguish that they suffer. Insurers and juries generally assume that a serious injury that requires extensive medical treatment probably results in significant pain and suffering. Certain types of injuries, such as broken bones and burns, are widely known to be painful. Injuries that are permanent also are expected to result in pain and suffering. On the other hand, soft tissue injuries and other less visible types of injuries may be much more painful to one victim than another. If a victim did not receive substantial medical treatment for them, an insurer may not place a high value on their pain and suffering.
Evidence that supports your claim for economic damages also can help support your claim for non-economic damages. For example, medical records from your doctor may show that you were experiencing significant discomfort during an exam. If you used pain medication, records of your prescriptions may be useful. Also, if you missed time at work, this can support not only a lost income claim but also a pain and suffering claim. An insurer usually will infer that someone would not miss work and lose income unless they were dealing with significant pain.
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