A personal injury claim aims to help you recover damages, or financial losses, related to the injuries you sustained in an accident. Getting injured can become incredibly expensive. Not only do you have to worry about the cost of medical treatment, you may need to carefully consider the other financial losses related to your accident. Then there are your non-financial losses—after all, serious injuries cause more damage than medical costs alone.
Most personal injury claims include three key types of damages. Your lawyer will help you take a look at your losses in those categories and calculate them as part of your personal injury claim.
Category #1: Medical Bills
Most people, when they sue for compensation after a serious injury, start with compensation for their medical expenses. Medical care can quickly become expensive. Surgical treatment for a broken leg alone, for example, could cost between $17,000 and $35,000. Ambulance transport may range between $400 and $1,200 without insurance—and that may not include additional costs for miles traveled.
If you suffer more serious injuries, including injuries like traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, or burns, you may find yourself facing even greater medical costs. In many cases, those bills may represent an ongoing financial weight in your life.
While waiting to move forward with a personal injury claim after a serious accident, make sure you keep track of all your medical costs and consult with an attorney about what other costs you may need to include under the medical bills category.
Emergency Medical Costs
Many severe injuries may require ambulance transport to the nearest hospital as well as emergency medical care in the emergency room. Emergency medical costs often rise higher than the cost for similar services in a non-emergency scenario. Often, treatment in the emergency room can help save your life or alleviate some of the immediate pain that goes along with your injury. Failure to seek emergency treatment could worsen your symptoms, which can make seeking emergency medical treatment a critical, if expensive, part of your recovery.
Procedures and Follow-Up Appointments
Many types of injuries may require extensive follow-up treatment and observation. For example, suppose that you break your leg. In the emergency room, you may receive a bandage that will help keep your leg in place, pain medications, and crutches, or a wheelchair. Your doctors may want you to see a surgeon within a few days of the accident to have pins or screws put in your leg to support the break, properly set it, and raise your odds of making a full recovery. You will then need to go through several follow-up appointments with your doctor to help gauge your progress and help you make a full recovery.
More severe injuries, from burns to spinal cord injuries, may require more serious treatment and more frequent evaluations. Each of those visits to your care provider will add to your medical bills.
Durable Medical Equipment
Durable medical equipment can take many forms after a serious accident. You may, for example, need to use a wheelchair or crutches to get around. Even if you can return home, you may need an oxygen monitor or pressure mattress. You may need specific items, like traction equipment or a hospital bed in your home, a lift, or a bedside commode chair that make it easier for you to maintain your independence at home despite your injuries. If you need that equipment to aid in recovery, mobility, or independence, or to help manage pain, you can include it as part of your medical costs as you move forward with your personal injury claim.
Long-term care can take several forms after a serious accident. Some people cannot return home for some time after the accident. They may have a long stay in the hospital or need to move to a rehabilitation facility or long-term care facility to receive the high standard of care they need while recovering from their injuries. Others may have the ability to go home, but require in-home care to help them keep up with their medical needs or manage basic self-care tasks. You could include the cost of that long-term care in your personal injury claim after a serious accident.
Following your accident, you may need several types of therapy to help you recover from your injuries. Physical therapy helps to maintain strength in uninjured areas of the body or to regain strength and mobility in the injured area of the body. Occupational therapy, on the other hand, helps many accident victims learn how to cope with their limitations. Occupational therapists provide suggestions that can help seriously injured patients learn how to work around injured body parts or losses they may have suffered due to the accident.
For example, an occupational therapist working with a traumatic brain injury victim might help that victim learn how to use apps that can assist with short-term memory, or suggest labeling cabinets and drawers at home to make it easier to find items that the patient uses regularly. Therapy may be essential to improving your overall recovery or providing you with the tools you need to navigate life with your new limitations.
In addition, many patients may need psychological therapy to help them cope with their new limitations and challenges. If you require psychological therapy as a direct result of the suffering you faced due to your accident, or because of trauma from the accident itself, you can include it under the medical bills category of your claim.
Home and Vehicle Modifications
Typically, people who suffer relatively minor injuries, from which they expect to make a full recovery, will simply cope with the limitations they have while recovering. Others, however, may suffer injuries that will permanently impact their quality of life and which require changes to their home and vehicles to allow them to continue to function as independently as possible.
If you end up confined to a wheelchair, for example, you may need to install a ramp to make it possible for you to enter your home safely. You may also need to widen doorways, both inside and out, to make it easier for you to get around. Many people also find that they also need to modify bathrooms or lower kitchen counters to allow for independence in a standard home. The cost of those changes can add up immensely, especially if you live in a large home.
In addition, some patients need to use a special vehicle or specially modified vehicle after a serious accident. You may find that vehicle modifications add substantial cost to your recovery.
Talk to an attorney about whether you can include the cost of those modifications, particularly essential modifications, in your personal injury claim.
Category #2: Lost Wages
At a time when you have medical bills mounting rapidly, losing your source of income can feel catastrophic. Unfortunately, for many victims of serious accidents, injuries can cause exactly that. You might not have the ability to work in your industry or to complete your usual job tasks after a serious accident. Depending on the type of injury you sustained, you may have a long wait before you can get back to the office, even if your employer will offer modifications that can make your life easier.
Talk to your attorney about the time you missed at work and why. For example, if you work in a warehouse job, broken bones could make it very difficult for you to complete your usual job tasks. Your employer might require you to remain out of work until you can safely navigate on the floor again, particularly if your injuries pose any kind of hazard in the workplace. Likewise, if you suffered a traumatic brain injury, you may have a hard time working in an office job where you must regularly interact with people, remember instructions, or complete complex tasks. Traumatic brain injury may also interfere with creative thinking skills and make it very difficult for you to take care of writing, marketing, or other creative tasks.
Initial Lost Time
Your initial lost time at work includes all the time you had to miss at work while recovering from the initial injury: the time before you could get back in the office and start taking care of job tasks again. You may, for example, have had to miss work for several weeks due to hospitalization. Even minor injuries can keep you out of work for 6-8 weeks, depending on the extent of the injury and the type of recovery you need.
Lost Time for Appointments
Even after you get back to the office, you may have to miss time due to continuing appointments: therapy, follow-ups with your doctor, and ongoing procedures, for example. Those appointments can become very disruptive to your overall schedule and leave you without the time you might need for other tasks.
Lost Vacation Time
Many companies will allow seriously injured employees to use vacation time or other stored PTO to help take care of the time they have missed while recovering. Talk to your attorney about how to include that time as part of your claim, since it still represents a loss that you would otherwise have used for personal time or vacation.
Lost Ability to Work/Work in the Same Industry
Some injuries can be permanently debilitating or disabling in a way that may prevent you from returning to your former position at all.
Suppose, for example, that you worked as a general contractor, then suffered a spinal cord injury. You might no longer have the ability to perform many of your former job tasks, so you may find yourself permanently unable to go back to work.
In that case, you might have the right to claim lost earning potential: compensation for the long-term financial losses you will face since you can no longer work in your former industry. Talk to your attorney about those potential losses and what compensation you should pursue.
Category #3: Pain and Suffering
While medical costs and lost wages have a tangible financial value, pain and suffering is much more difficult to calculate. Many accidents, especially those that cause permanent disability, can traumatize the victim, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, as well.
Many personal injury lawsuits include compensation for pain and suffering: a way for the accident victim to recover compensation for some of the non-tangible elements of suffering that impact their life after the claim. Your attorney may ask several questions about how your accident has impacted your life, what losses and limitations you have faced, and the severity of your injuries.
For example, your attorney might ask:
- How has your injury interfered with your relationships? Many people find themselves very isolated after a serious injury, especially if that injury leads to long-term disability.
- How has your injury impacted your ability to enjoy your usual activities and hobbies? What have you missed out on because of your injuries?
- How has your injury changed your overall enjoyment of life?
- Have you suffered mental or emotional anguish as a result of your injuries? What about depression, anxiety, or PTSD symptoms?
- Have your injuries caused you significant physical pain?
While pain and suffering may not have a tangible financial value, it can form a large percentage of your claim. Work with an attorney to create a more accurate representation of your injuries and the suffering they have caused you.
Breaking down the compensation you deserve after an accident can be complex, and insurance companies may not have your best interests at heart. Often, insurance companies will issue low settlement offers that do not account for the full damages, including both financial damages and pain and suffering, that you faced due to the accident. Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon after your accident as possible to get a better idea of the compensation you deserve.