The value of your car accident claim depends on many factors, some of which are difficult to determine. In fact, negotiations with the insurance company generally center on coming to an agreement about the value of the claim. You should expect the at-fault party and his or her insurance company to believe that your auto accident claim is worth far less than the value that your car accident attorney presents. When negotiations go awry, you may need to go to trial and let a court decide the value of your claim.
Your attorney can give you a ballpark estimate of the value of your claim, but he or she cannot guarantee a specific outcome. Your lawyer will use many different strategies to determine how much your claim is worth. Some elements, like medical bills and lost wages, are easily quantifiable, and your lawyer simply has to add up your costs and expenses. Other elements require careful evaluation; some even require your lawyer to reach out to specialists, such as medical experts and life care planners.
Even when your attorney carefully researches your car accident claim and places a monetary value on it, you cannot depend on receiving that amount of compensation. An experienced car accident attorney can advocate for you and negotiate the best financial outcome for your individual circumstances. We provide this guide to familiarize you with the elements of your claim that will add to or detract from its value. Read on for more information.
The amount of economic loss that car accident victims and their families must incur in the aftermath of a car accident varies greatly. Severe accidents and injuries cause accident victims to miss work, while they simultaneously amass medical treatment expenses. If the injured victim is a child, one or both parents must miss work to care for the child. Severe car accidents are costly, and economic losses can easily total into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Car accident claims with the most economic loss typically are worth more. Specific costs and expenses that contribute to a car accident victim’s overall economic loss include:
Medical Treatment Expenses
Car accident victims begin to accumulate medical expenses within minutes after an accident. In severe crashes, emergency response teams typically come to the scene of the accident and transport anyone with injuries to the nearest emergency department for treatment.
Your costly emergency room visit and ambulance ride is only the tip of the iceberg. Depending on the severity and nature of your symptoms and injuries, you should expect to add several more costs to your bill. Severe injuries typically require a battery of tests, diagnostic X-rays, and other imaging, such as expensive MRIs and CT scans. Some victims need one or more surgeries and must spend days or weeks in the hospital. Surgery comes with additional expenses, such as surgical nurses, anesthesiologists, surgical supplies, and anesthesia.
Even when victims are released from the hospital, they still often need to return to the doctor for aftercare and follow-up visits. If you require long-term nursing care as a result of your injuries, you can expect your expenses to skyrocket. Health insurance policies do not cover nursing homes; accident victims need to have previously purchased a separate policy.
If you temporarily or permanently cannot return to the job that you had before sustaining injuries in a car accident, your claim will also include lost wages and benefits. Once accident victims use any paid time off they have, they must take unpaid time away from their jobs.
Depending on your situation, you might be eligible for disability benefits, but they only cover about two-thirds of your average weekly wage. The longer you spend away from your job, the more your car accident claim will be worth. If a car accident results in a catastrophic injury that prevents you or a loved one from returning to work or seeking employment in the future, your attorney will include estimated future lost wages and benefits in the value of your claim.
Injuries sustained in a severe car accident can take weeks or months to heal, and victims must spend ample time recovering and rehabilitating their bodies. Some victims lose muscle mass and some functions because of spending a lot of time in the hospital. Other accident victims suffer spinal cord injuries, back injuries, or traumatic brain injuries that pose challenges with motor function, muscles, and cognitive function.
Regaining muscle function, learning how to cope with injuries, and learning new ways to approach common tasks require car accident victims to engage in a rehabilitation regimen with one or more specialists. Depending on the severity and type of injuries that a car accident victim suffers, rehabilitation may include spending time with a physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech and language therapist, and some type of behavioral specialist, like a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Expenses for Making Your Home More Accessible
Ultimately most car accident victims get to go home after a brief period of hospitalization, but going home doesn’t always mean that an accident victim has made a complete recovery. Easing back into daily life often includes making minor or major changes to make your home more accessible. This is especially necessary if you have suffered a permanent disability as a result of the car accident.
Some examples of expenses that you might incur include the cost of building a wheelchair ramp, installing grab bars in the bathroom and shower, and installing handrails throughout major walkways and hallways.
Mobility sometimes poses challenges for individuals who return home from the hospital. When a car accident victim cannot use the stairs, all main living areas must be on the main level. For some, this may mean undertaking a major remodel or building an addition, which can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. Families who choose to take care of a loved one at home will also need a hospital-grade bed. Any modifications that you or your family have to make to your home as a result of your accident injuries increase the value of your car accident claim.
Household Help and Replacement Service
Before you suffered injuries in a car accident, you likely helped maintain your house and household in many different ways. Severe or permanent injuries can interfere with your ability to perform these tasks. Maybe your family will help pick up the slack, but often this is not the case. Families are too busy caring for their loved ones, and the added responsibilities are simply too much, so some choose to hire outside help.
Depending on the services you provided your household before your injury, you and your family might hire one or more of the following:
- Lawncare and landscaping service
- Pool maintenance service
- Cleaning service
- Chef or grocery delivery service
- Nanny and or daycare service
- Driver to take you places, run errands, and transport kids
- Personal assistant
You might already be paying for some of these services; however, you should consider any services that you’ve had to purchase due to your injuries and include that cost in your accident claim.
The economic loss and financial burden that come with severe car accident injuries are just part of the overall loss that victims and their families often endure after an accident. Accident victims must learn how to physically cope with their injuries and overcome related challenges. Families must be patient and supportive and often have to deal with overwhelming emotions, too.
Your car accident attorney will evaluate how your injuries have impacted your life in less tangible ways. If you have suffered a large amount of non-economic losses related to your injury, your car accident claim will likely be worth more than that of someone who did not suffer as much.
Some examples of non-economic damages that your lawyer may include in your car accident claim include:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Decreased quality of life
- Loss of consortium with your spouse
- Scarring and disfigurement
Lawyers face challenges establishing the value of non-economic aspects of accident claims, because it’s a highly subjective process. An experienced attorney knows the acceptable range in many situations, but likely will also rely on past cases and experts who can help support your claim. Three of the major factors that impact the value of the non-economic damages portion of your claim are: (1) the severity of your injuries, (2) the nature of your injuries, and (3) your long-term prognosis.
The Severity of Your Injuries
While it’s not always the case, the more injuries that you suffer in a car accident, and the worse they are, the more your accident claim will be worth. A broken arm or dislocated shoulder is painful for an accident victim, but these injuries typically heal and do not require victims to remain in the hospital or miss weeks of work. Conversely, victims who suffer a severe chest contusion or back injury, spinal cord injury, or traumatic brain injury often miss weeks or months of work.
In some cases, returning to work isn’t possible. Some victims may even require additional time in the hospital, more tests, and more doctor visits; these individuals also may have to cope with permanent damage. These types of severe or catastrophic injuries typically result in high claim values.
The Nature of Your Injuries
Your car accident attorney will also evaluate the nature of your injury when he or she establishes the value of your claim. Injuries that cause chronic pain and lifelong struggles may lead to anger, embarrassment, frustration, and a whole host of negative emotions. Examples of injuries of a serious nature that will increase the value of a car accident claim include amputation and permanent scars.
Losing a limb devastates accident victims, who have to embark on the frustrating, sometimes humiliating, journey of learning how to use an artificial limb. When cuts or burns from severe car accident injuries leave scars, victims have a reminder of the accident for life, especially when scars are on the face or other highly visible areas of the body.
Your Long-Term Prognosis
If doctors and other specialists expect you to make a full recovery from your car accident injuries, your claim will not be worth as much. If your long-term prognosis is grim, you suffered a permanent disability, or your injuries caused you to develop a medical condition that you must deal with for the rest of your life, your lawyer will ask for more money from the insurance company involved with the accident.
Your prognosis has a strong relationship to the nature and severity of your injuries, all of which justify the amount of compensation your attorney requests for damages. You can expect your lawyer to discuss your prognosis with your doctor to help determine your claim’s overall value.
Insurance Policy Limits
Insurance companies play a large role, especially in Florida, in determining how much your claim is worth. First, Florida is a no-fault insurance state that requires drivers who register a vehicle to carry a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection insurance (PIP). Unless you do not have PIP insurance, do not fall under another person’s PIP insurance, or you did not seek medical attention within 14 days of the accident, you will file your initial car accident insurance claim with your own carrier.
Severe car accident injuries often quickly meet or exceed an individual’s PIP coverage, in which case you must file a lawsuit against the driver to recover additional compensation. The at-fault driver’s bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage, if he or she has it, will kick in to compensate you for damages beyond your PIP claim. However, not all drivers carry BIL coverage, and when they do, the amount still may not be enough to compensate you for the full cost of your injuries.
Even if your claim is worth X amount of dollars, you cannot always collect that amount because you are limited by the at-fault driver’s coverage limits. Severe accidents that result in massive medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses can easily exhaust BIL policy coverage limits. If you have purchased underinsured or uninsured (UI/UM) coverage, you can possibly recover additional compensation under your own policy.
Your car accident lawyer can help you navigate the muddy waters of insurance claims and policy limits in relation to your car accident claim.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue, Suite 150
Orlando, FL 32814