How do Personal Injury Awards Work?
Two years ago, Duane Washington nearly lost his life in a massive car accident near Tallahassee, Florida.
The retired U.S. Army sergeant was headed home on his motorcycle when poor weather and a commercial vehicle caused a 45-vehicle pileup on the I-10. Washington, moving quickly, tried to navigate into the median to avoid a collision, but ran into the back end of a stopped truck with no lights in the emergency lane. According to his lawyers, Washington was flung into the median with life-threatening injuries.
After medical treatment for his life-altering injuries—he can only walk with a specialized arm crutch and has a withered right leg—Washington sought legal help to hold the commercial vehicle’s employer accountable. After initial negotiations, the company—Top Auto, based in Miami—rejected a settlement offer of $1 million.
The lawyers pushed, and in a virtual jury trial, the legal team secured a verdict of $411,726,608 for Washington. According to his lawyers, Washington’s medical expenses alone amounted to $750,000, and the verdict will help ensure that he and his family are secure.
How do award calculations work?
One big misconception about personal injury law cases is that plaintiffs sue over minor injuries just for a big payoff, and that a lawyer makes up a huge number to get as much as they can. In actuality, most personal injury awards are decided in a settlement before they ever go to a jury trial. This helps give the defendant a say in what they end up paying, versus leaving it up to a judge and jury. If the case does end up decided by the jury, the calculations of how much a client receives in compensation at the end of a case are highly documented and based on a number of factors.
There are a few different types of compensable expenses, but the following are some of the most common:
-Medical expenses: These are bills for hospital treatment, followup appointments, physical therapy, prescriptions, surgeries, and other assorted medical treatments directly related to your injury. These can be months or years later, as long as they are directly related to the injury caused by the initial situation.
-Lost income: This is the quantification of what you would have made from working during the time your injury prevented you from working. If you are permanently disabled as a result of your injury, this can be a very large number, especially if you are so disabled that you cannot work in your previous career or at all.
-Property damage/loss: This is the loss of your vehicle or other personal property as a result of the situation that led to your injury. It can include the loss of smaller items, such as clothing or cell phones, that were destroyed or damaged as a result.
-Pain and suffering: This is a quantification of the pain and suffering you suffered as a result of the injury, including if you are in any long-lasting pain or discomfort as a result.
-Emotional damage: Emotional distress is usually related to the psychological damage resulting from an injury, such as long-lasting fear or trauma.
The total compensation you are entitled to is usually developed from a combination of these factors. There may also be punitive damages, or payments meant to punish the defendant in the case of gross negligence.
How to maximize your settlement
First, make sure you preserve any evidence from the circumstances surrounding your injury. This would include things like photographs or a police report from a car accident and records and invoices from medical providers. Depending on the circumstances of your injury, these may vary, but do your best to provide any documentation you can from the circumstances. Doing so will be a great help to your legal team and will assist a jury in determining the validity and extent of your claim.
Second, make sure to get medical treatment immediately after an injury. If you wait even a day or two, this can be used against your claim. Keep all records, including referrals and prescriptions, that could be cited back to the injury. Don’t wait too long to engage an attorney, either. Depending on the circumstances, there may be a time limit on how long you have to file a personal injury suit, and if witnesses are called, they may have forgotten some details if you wait too long.
Your attorney will help you negotiate with the defendant based on your goals and your expenses, and will usually help you evaluate the offer of a settlement when it comes in. You should carefully consider this offer—if it meets your expectations and needs, that’s great, but it may not. Don’t fall prey to impatience and accept the first offer, especially if it’s inadequate. You may need to reject the first few offers, explaining why each time. Going to trial can be expensive and risky, so many companies will avoid it.
It’s important to choose an attorney who will best represent you and your family’s needs. If you have been injured, you can seek the advice of an attorney to see if you are eligible for compensation to cover your expenses.