There is one question we hear more often than every other question from people who have been injured in an accident here in South Florida: “What’s my personal injury case worth?”
An person’s desire to know what they can recover in a personal injury lawsuit is entirely understandable: They have been hurt, they’re racking up thousands—potentially tens of thousands—of dollars in medical bills and other costs, and it is not fair that they should have to pay for injuries caused by someone else’s negligence.
Unfortunately, this is also the wrong question to ask.
The “Wrong” Question
There is one simple reason why asking for a value calculation is the wrong question: The facts of the case determine each victim’s losses and damages. Each car or truck accident claim, slip and fall case, or medical malpractice lawsuit will have unique dynamics that no other case has. Therefore, it’s virtually impossible to give exact figures upfront for how much an accident victim can recover.
There are two primary factors that cause these complications.
Complicating Factor #1: Stubborn Facts
Despite what you might assume after seeing most of the lawyer billboard advertisements along Florida’s interstates and turnpike, the amount another person received in a car accident settlement or judgment has almost no bearing on how much you might receive for your car accident. So, when you see the 40-foot tall billboard or the brightly colored popups on websites touting that “Mr. Lawyer got me $750,000!” or “Over $5 million recovered”, please know that that amount is particular to the circumstances of that person’s case.
Pro Tip: Obviously, it’s hard to do while driving—and that’s probably the point—but if you look closely, you might see a small disclaimer at the bottom of the billboards stating that the results are based on the facts of the case. One might justifiably wonder what the point is of putting up these big flashy numbers if not to mislead passers-by into assuming they can get the same amount.
And you wouldn’t want it to be any other way. Imagine the alternative where how much you were allowed to recover from your car accident was not determined by the medical bills you had accumulated, the damage to your personal property, and the long-term effects on your life. In this alternate realty, you would be entitled to recover the same amount as Mr. Halpert who suffered only a minor concussion when his ’96 Honda Civic he got rear ended, even though your brand new Jeep was totaled and you haven’t been able to work for two months.
Complicating Factor #2: Comparative Liability
A second issue is Florida specific.
As you may or may not know, Florida determines and assigns liability in personal injury cases according to the pure comparative liability standard. Under Florida’s comparative liability system, both parties in an accident essentially share fault. When it comes to recovering damages, a determination is made of how much fault each party bears in causing the accident compared to the other party. These percentages of fault directly determine the amount of damages recoverable by each party.
For example, if one driver makes an aggressive left turn in front of an oncoming driver who was speeding, there will be a discussion of what percentage of the fault to assign to each driver. If it’s determined that Driver A bears 15% of the fault for the accident, she will only be able to recover 85% of the total damages in the case.
Again, the assignment of liability must be made on a case by case basis. As such, even if we assume for the sake of argument that all of the factors that would determine the total possible damages in two car accidents are exactly the same—e.g. crash type, vehicles, injuries—that doesn’t mean the amounts that each party is allowed to recover will also be the same. There will still be many factors to assess in order to assign the liability that each party bears for the accident.
Maybe Driver A in the first scenario was sending a text message or Driver B’s brake pads in the second accident were improperly maintained. Both situations will affect the liability distribution and therefore the amounts of recoverable damages.
The “Right” Question
If you have been injured in a car wreck, truck accident, or any other kind of accident here in Boca Raton, you should definitely exercise your right to hold the negligent party accountable and receive compensation.
As you do this, though, the better question to start with is: “What types of damages can I recover?” The answer to this question is that, according to Florida law, persons injured in accidents have the right to sue the at-fault parties for economic (“special”) and non-economic (“general”) damages. Punitive damages could also be on the table in extreme cases, but you should talk to a lawyer to discuss that option.
Economic or Special Damages
Economic damages are your compensation for the out-of-pocket expenses related to the injuries you sustained in the accident. They may include:
If you’ve been in an accident, the cost of your medical treatments could be massive. Emergency room visits, hospitalizations, surgeries, physical therapy, prescription medications, and assistive devices (e.g. wheelchairs) can all be necessary to help you recover from a serious injury. As long as you have seen a doctor within the required 14-day window, the medical expenses you incur (and are likely to incur in the future) as a result of a accident are recoverable damages—including mileage to and from appointments!
There are 80.4 million hourly workers in the U.S. Simply being in a serious accident and receiving medical treatment can result in fewer working hours and lost wages. Certain injuries can further prevent these employees from returning to work while they are recovering. In this case, future lost wages may also be recoverable damages.
The damage done to your car, bike, or boat will depend on the circumstances of the accident and the other vehicles involved. For example, rear-end collisions will likely do far less damage than most truck accidents. Sometimes items inside or on your vehicle can also be damaged, such as laptops, bicycles (on racks), or cell phones. If an accident is caused by the negligence of the other driver, you can make a claim against the various parties involved for the physical damage to your car or items inside your car.
Funeral and Burial Expenses
If someone you love has died from the injuries sustained in a car or truck accident, the funeral expenses may also be covered. However, after a person dies, their spouse, family, or personal representative must bring a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf, which is a somewhat different undertaking than a personal injury lawsuit.
Non-Economic or General Damages
Non-economic damages are a fuzzy category that are hard to quantify. They often include future harms or injuries that lack specific dollar values. You and your lawyer will assign values to these items by their impact on your quality of life.
Loss of Capacity of Earn
In the worst-case scenario, a serious car, truck, or bicycle accident injury may result in a long-term absence from work or even a permanent inability to work or to return to a current job. This is known as a loss of “capacity to earn,” and accident victims can be compensated for this loss of future earnings.
Loss of Consortium
Consortium is Latin for “partnership” or “close connection.” These damages are recoverable when an injured party can no longer provide the same love, affection, companionship, parenting, care, or sexual relationship due to their injuries. Spouses and close family members of accident victims can be compensated for the loss of consortium.
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering damages are usually the most highly compensated damages, but they come with caveats. Florida law allows accident victims to recover damages for “pain, suffering, mental anguish, and inconvenience” only if a person is permanently injured and the pain and suffering is a direct result of the injuries sustained in the accident. Certain types of accidents are more likely to cause permanent or life-altering injuries. Regardless of whether you deserve them or not, the insurance company will do everything it can to prevent you from being compensated for your emotional damages.
Don’t Go It Alone!
If you are here, chances are that you or someone you know has been injured in an accident. We are truly sorry that you are going through this, and we sincerely hope that you recover from your injuries and that you can return to your normal life as soon as possible.
However, in the meantime, your window to recover compensation for your injuries is closing. It’s your right to hold the negligent parties accountable and receive compensation for your damages, but victims who don’t have a dedicated personal injury lawyer on their side often don’t recover the full amount of damages to which they are entitled. Insurance companies may already be peppering you with emails and phone calls trying to force a low-ball settlement. The insurance company will have attorneys and insurance adjusters on their side to protect their interests—so should you.
The personal injury lawyers here at Personal Injury & Accident Law Center would love to speak to you about your case and tell you how we can help you get on the path to recovery. Call us today at (561)372-3800 to schedule a free case evaluation or fill out the confidential form below and a team member will contact you soon.