How are damages calculated in a personal injury case?

Video Transcription

Interviewer: What is my case worth?

Reuben Donig, Esq.: Another way of asking that question is how is a case valued or how are damages evaluated? To start with, you have to determine whether you have any fault in causing the accident or your injuries. If you’re completely faultless, if there’s no fault of yours that caused the accident or contributed to the accident or contributed to your injuries and it’s entirely somebody else’s liability and responsibility, then we start with that. One hundred percent, they owe you 100% of your damages. Your damages are your economic and your non-economic damages.

Your economic damages are your diminished earning capacity, any monetary losses that you’ve experienced from inability to work or time off from work or reduced amount of work. If you’re not gonna be able to work to the same extent or in the same capacity, in the future, you may experience future diminished earning capacity or income loss. Those things are part of the valuation of your damages.

Your past medical expenses that you incurred and future reasonably anticipated medical expenses that you’re likely to incur are another component of your economic damages. Any other property damage that you suffered or any out-of-pocket expenses. If you had to hire a gardener, someone to drive you, someone to clean your house, those are all part of your economic damages.

You’re also entitled to be compensated fully for your pain and suffering. This is also called general damages. Not only the actual pain but the risks involved in the medical procedures that you had to undergo if you had to undergo risky surgery. For example, the diminished quality of life. You’re not able to engage in the same recreational activities or do the same daily activities, or you can only do so with difficulty or pain or to a limited extent.

If you can’t sleep well at night and that causes you to be drowsy and less functional or you can’t exercise as before and you’re health deteriorates and you gain weight. These are all components of general damages for which there is no defined or fixed way of calculating the amount that you should receive. You can’t look it up on a computer or in a book. It’s just a matter of feel.

After nearly 40 years of practicing law, I’ve developed pretty good feel for what general damages should be, depending on the kind of injuries and how those injuries have affected a person. And of course, the other side has trained adjusters who have a feel for it as well, although their feel is usually considerably for less money than I value it at. And then if the case goes into litigation, it’s a matter of, give or take, negotiations, possibly mediation.

Ultimately, if it can’t be agreed upon, the ultimate decider of what your case is worth is a jury of 12 people and they can see things differently. One group of jurors might see a case is $50,000. Another group might hear the same facts and say it’s worth $500,000. So that’s why there’s no fixed way of calculating it. But I will say that attorneys such as myself who practice personal injury law and who’ve been doing so for a long time and have done so well and successfully usually develop a pretty good sense of what a case is worth.

We won’t have that right from the beginning. We have to see how things play out. But at an appropriate point in the handling of your case, we should be able to come up with a rough sense of what the value of your case is.

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