What Factors Can Affect Personal Injury Settlement Calculations?
One of the most common questions we are asked by new clients is, “How much is my case worth?” The unfortunate truth is that no attorney who practices with integrity would ever guarantee that your claim will yield a specific dollar figure even if your case seems strong; however, our lawyers can explain the factors that might impact the settlement calculations in your particular circumstances. Generally speaking, the following factors often influence the potential value of a personal injury case:
- The Severity of the Injuries: More severe injuries tend to cost more to diagnose, stabilize, and rehabilitate. They also contribute to much higher indirect costs like lost wages. If you sustained a spinal cord injury, for example, and you end up suffering permanent paralysis that prevents you from returning to the workforce at all, you will incur a lifetime of lost earnings. If, on the other hand, you suffered a few fractures, lacerations, and bruises, you may only have to miss a few weeks of work. At the end of the day, the severity of your injuries will likely affect the potential value of the following damages, all of which might be recoverable in the state of California: medical expenses, home care, lost income, loss of earning capacity, the cost of reasonably necessary replacement services, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life.
- Whether the Claimant Shoulders a Percentage of Liability: If you played a role in the accident in which you were hurt—or you contributed to the severity of your injuries after the fact—the payout to which you may be entitled will be reduced accordingly. Under California’s pure comparative negligence system, a plaintiff’s recovery must be reduced by his or her own percentage of fault; however, even if you are deemed more than 50 percent liable, you will not be barred from pursuing damages.
- The Circumstances Surrounding the Accident: Most personal injury claimants are entitled to collect only compensatory damages. Such damages aim to make the plaintiff whole again by reimbursing him or her for the losses incurred as a result of the tort. If the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious, however, you may be entitled to a punitive award, as well. California allows for the recovery of punitive damages when the liable party’s conduct constituted malice, fraud, or oppression. Instead of compensating the plaintiff for their losses, punitive damages aim to punish the defendant for their misconduct and to deter similar wrongdoing in the future.
How Could Social Media Impact My Personal Injury Case?
If you use social media, deactivating your accounts for as long as the claim is pending will prevent the opposing party from monitoring your online presence. This, in turn, may prevent disputes that have the potential to draw out the proceedings or reduce your potential recovery. If deactivation is not an option, you should follow these tips for using social media so you don’t jeopardize your claim:
- Update Your Privacy Settings: Change your privacy settings so only approved friends or followers can view your posts. While the claims adjuster may still be able to see some of your content through third-party connections or by other means, this will provide an added layer of protection.
- Screen All Friend/Follower Requests Carefully: Until your case has been resolved, do not accept any requests from people whom you don’t recognize. Even if the request isn’t from the claims adjuster, it could be from someone in their office.
- Avoid Posting Anything That Could Jeopardize Your Case: Insurers have all kinds of strategies for denying or at least devaluing the cases they review, and using social media posts to challenge the claimant’s assertions is one of them. Since they might misinterpret—or misrepresent—your text posts, check-ins, photos, and videos, it’s best to avoid publishing them altogether. As a general rule of thumb, avoid posting about the accident, your injuries, the claims process, your expenditures, your work life, or your social life.
- Remind Friends and Loved Ones of Your Pending Case: The claims adjuster may have a hard time monitoring your social media accounts after you take the above steps, but what if your friends and loved ones maintain public profiles? The insurer might review their posts periodically in search of evidence that can be used to dispute certain aspects of your claim. As such, you should ask those who are closest to you to avoid posting about your injuries or your case. Make sure they don’t tag you participating in social events, either. Even if their intentions are good, publishing anything about your activities in the wake of the accident could end up hurting your case.
What Mistakes Should I Avoid Throughout the Proceedings?
There are countless ways for a personal injury claimant to jeopardize their case inadvertently. Our Oceanside personal injury lawyers can explain what you should do—and not do—to give your case the best possible chance of success. Let’s take a look at some of the most common mistakes injured parties make throughout the proceedings:
- Postponing Treatment: Personal injury claimants have an obligation to mitigate damages. Otherwise, they may be unable to recover compensation for 100 percent of the losses they incur. As such, it is important to seek prompt medical care. Postponing treatment could cause complications for which you are solely responsible. It is also important to follow your doctor’s orders, attend all scheduled appointments, and take any medication as prescribed.
- Providing a Recorded Statement: The claims adjuster will probably ask for a recorded statement fairly early in the proceedings. Do not provide one; instead, let your Oceanside personal injury lawyer handle all such correspondence.
- Accepting Some Degree of Blame: The opposing party may assert that you were partially to blame for the accident. While they may be right, there’s no way to be sure until your legal team has conducted a thorough investigation. For this reason, you should avoid accepting fault even if you believe that your own negligence was a contributing factor.
- Commencing Negotiations Prematurely: Accepting a settlement prior to reaching maximum medical improvement (MMI) could lead to serious financial problems down the road. It can be difficult to approximate the total damages you will incur until you have reached MMI, so if you accept a settlement too early, you might not obtain enough compensation to cover your losses.
- Going up Against the Insurer Alone: Claims adjusters are essentially professional negotiators. They have all kinds of tactics for devaluing the cases they review, and they know how to coerce claimants into making critical mistakes. In other words, it is unwise to go up against the adjuster alone. Thankfully, you won’t even have to correspond with them if you hire a personal injury attorney to handle the logistics of your case.
- Posting About the Case on Social Media: It’s only natural to turn to social media for support after some kind of traumatic event. Since the insurance adjuster will likely be monitoring your online presence, though, it’s in your best interests to stay off social media altogether until your claim has been resolved.
How Soon Should I Visit a Doctor After Suffering a Personal Injury?
Most people are reluctant to take time out of their day to visit a doctor—especially when their injuries do not seem very serious. However, delaying the medical evaluation is one of the worst mistakes a personal injury claimant can make. The optimal time to visit your doctor is immediately after you leave the scene of the accident. Here are just a few reasons why sooner is always better when it comes to seeking medical treatment:
- You Will Have Evidence to Tie Your Injuries to the Accident: To win a third-party insurance claim, you must be able to prove liability, causation, and damages. Therefore, even if you’re able to prove that the defendant was negligent and that you have suffered damages, you cannot obtain a financial award unless you can tie the damages to the tort. Visiting a doctor for a prompt diagnosis can draw a clear line between the accident and the injuries you’ve suffered. If you delay this assessment, the defendant might assert that your injuries are the result of another accident.
- Insurers Will Want to See Official Documents: Just telling the insurance company you have suffered an injury due to their policyholder’s negligence won’t be enough to win a settlement. You need documentation to prove the kinds of injuries you sustained and the types of care you will need. By seeking medical treatment right away, you will have official documentation of your diagnosis, prognosis, and prescribed treatments.
- Minor Symptoms Are Not Always Minor Issues: Serious whiplash, internal injuries, and brain trauma are just a few examples of major medical conditions that can present with minor symptoms. For example, if you were in an accident and the only symptom you notice is a persistent headache, you may think there’s nothing to worry about; however, this could be the first symptom of a concussion or other traumatic brain injury. Foregoing the medical assessment not only could allow your condition to worsen but also might lead to the insurance company disputing your claim. They may assert, for instance, that your injury couldn’t be very serious since immediate care was not necessary, or that the injury must have been caused by something that happened after the accident. If such a dispute arises, there are many kinds of evidence our Oceanside personal injury attorneys might use to counter it. In addition to your medical records and documentation of the accident, we may bring in medical experts to assist with building the claim and to provide deposition during discovery.
- You Have a Duty to Mitigate the Damages: Seeking medical treatment is about more than just protecting your wellbeing. If an injury or condition progresses because you put off getting treatment, the insurer may argue that you have failed to mitigate the damages. This could lead to a reduction in your financial award since the insurance company will not have to pay for damages caused by your own negligence.
- Foregoing Treatment Could Cause Your Injury to Worsen: If left untreated, some injuries can become far worse and possibly cause permanent complications such as mobility impairments or cognitive disabilities. The sooner you consult your doctor and start undergoing treatment, the better your prognosis may be.