Car Accident Damages
“What is my case worth?” Perhaps the most common question asked of a personal injury attorney. There are many factors that can determine the value of your case and this post will touch on some of these factors. For the sake of clarity, we will assume that the damages are associated with a motor vehicle accident. Keep in mind, until an attorney has an opportunity to look at the specific facts of your case, specific numbers cannot be given. Additionally, any estimate a lawyer gives you is just that, an estimate or opinion. No one can guarantee any specific recovery.
Available Insurance Coverage
The number one factor that will determine your case’s value is how much auto insurance coverage is available for coverage, not just on you’re the at-fault driver’s vehicle, but yours as well. In South Carolina the minimum coverage allowed is $25,000.00. That is the limit that you will be able to recover from an at-fault driver’s insurance company if he or she is driving with the state mandated minimum coverage. If they have a policy that includes higher policy limits, then your recovery limit increases along with it. Also, if you carry underinsured (UIM) or uninsured (UM) motorist coverage on your vehicle’s policy, you may have an additional resource for the recovery of damages. You can determine this by looking at your insurance policy’s declarations page.
While your injuries and related damages may be in excess of the at-fault driver’s policy, the policy limits are very likely going to be your only available resource. You may bring suit against the driver to recover more, but this is very problematic in that the driver would have to first, have assets that can be attached in the event of a judgment and second, you’d have to hire a personal injury attorney to collect on the judgment and attach it to those assets. This can be both time consuming and expensive, especially if your attorney will not take this aspect of your case on a contingency fee.
Your (and Your Attorney’s) Credibility.
Assuming that damages are present, you need to establish if you are the kind of person a jury is likely to believe if the matter were to go to trial. Insurance adjusters and defense counsel use your credibility and how you respond to the incident in determining any offer to settle that you may receive. In short, you must immediately:
- seek treatment
- accept the advice of your doctors
- consistently treat for your injuries
- refrain from doing things that an person with your injuries would not do (such as going to the gym, running, playing contact sports, etc.)
Likewise, the credibility of your attorney is factored in as well. We’ve all heard the expression: you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, right? It’s the same for attorneys. You don’t want to hire a corporate lawyer to handle your injury claim, no matter how established and respected he or she may be. The fact is that insurance companies and defense counsel know who has a reputation for handling injury claims. They also know how easy (or difficult) it is to deal with your lawyer, which could affect your settlement value. Be sure to hire an car accident lawyer who is familiar with injury law, and has a good reputation in the community. Feel them out in the initial consultation. You want someone who is firm, but also easy to work with. This will help your case in the long run.
Severity of Your Injury.
How badly were you injured? Did you break any bones and were the breaks sever? Did you sustain structural damage or soft tissue injuries? Did you go to the emergency room or require surgery? Who did you treat with, an orthopedist or a just a masseuse? How much were your medical expenses? Are there any future medical expenses resulting from this injury expected? These are all factors that are used to establish the value of your case. Be sure to document all of your medical expenses and records for your attorney to review. You will also have to sign authorization froms so that your attorney can request records from your medical providers.
Also be sure to let your attorney know the source of these payments. Did you pay out of pocket, or was it covered by your health plan? Are you on a government entitlement program like Medicare or Medicaid. Many times, your insurance provider will maintain a lien on your recovery. Your attorney can negotiate this lien, so don’t become too alarmed.
Was There Any Property Damage?
This will not only have an impact on your economic recovery but also may help increase the amount you receive in an injury settlement. The more severe the damage, the easier it is to establish that the injuries were severe enough for the settlement demand you are making.
Be sure to take pictures of all property dames and provide them to your attorney.
Did You Lose or Will You Lose Time From Work?
How much income did you lose as a result of missing work due to your injuries? Be sure to keep a log of the days you missed from work and be prepared to have your employer verify your employment and salary. You are entitled to loss of income in your recovery.
In conclusion, the rule of thumb for calculating your damages is as follows: a reasonable settlement offer will equal three times your medical expenses plus any property damage and lost income as a result of the accident up to the amount of available insurance coverage. Be sure to consult with your attorney before signing anything provided to you by an insurance company and make sure you receive the treatment you need. After that, you lawyer can do all the heavy lifting.
The Law Office of Dennis J. DiSabato, Jr., LLC
3888 Renee Drive, Suite 201
Myrtle Beach, SC 29579