A serious accident can be life-altering. You may be left with debilitating injuries and insurmountable medical bills. You may lose the ability to work. The future well-being of both you and your family may be in question.
Following an injury of such magnitude, many victims choose to file a lawsuit to obtain compensation for themselves and their family. Many factors must be considered before you decide to pursue legal action. After all, the cost of an attorney may be considerable. Additionally, the stress and strain of a drawn-out lawsuit may be too much for some families to bear. These are all important considerations, but the factor at the forefront of any potential plaintiff’s mind is often the value of their case.
Unfortunately, calculating a case’s exact worth is an imprecise science even for an experienced attorney. However, the courts tend to focus on a few different criteria to determine how much money a plaintiff is owed. Discerning injury victims can use these same criteria to approximate the value of their case, and in turn, decide whether or not legal action is worth pursuing.
What Are Damages?
If the court decides that a plaintiff is owed compensation for their losses, it will award them “damages.” There are many different kinds of damages, but they are generally intended to compensate the plaintiff for the harm that they have suffered as a result of the accident. This may be physical or psychological harm, but it could also include financial harm such as loss of income. In the parlance of the courts, damages are intended to make the plaintiff whole again. The court wants to return the plaintiff to their pre-accident state, or at least as close to that state as reasonably possible.
It’s important to remember that most plaintiffs will not be awarded damages by a court in the end, as personal injury lawsuits usually settle out of court. However, the amount of damages the parties suspect a court would award the victim generally influences the agreed-upon settlement figure.
How Are Damages Calculated?
The courts will likely consider a variety of factors to calculate damages. Although not all courts and jurisdictions consider the same factors or weigh them equally, the same general criteria are often used.
There are many different kinds of damages, but in a personal injury lawsuit most plaintiffs receive what are known as “compensatory damages”. According to Thomson Reuters, compensatory damages are “the amount of money awarded to a party in a civil action to compensate for an injury or loss caused by another party’s unlawful conduct.”
There are different kinds of compensatory damages, such as economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages compensate the plaintiff for financial hardship and loss of income, such as medical debt. Non-economic damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for more abstract suffering such as physical and mental anguish.
If the court finds the defendant’s conduct particularly heinous it may grant punitive damages. Punitive damages are a unique form of damages that aren’t concerned with compensating the plaintiff for any hardship or loss; rather, they are meant to punish the defendant.
The court will only award punitive damages if it finds the defendant’s conduct particularly egregious. The court is intending to send a message to both the defendant and society that such conduct is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Often, for behavior to meet this standard it must be worthy of such descriptors as “grossly negligent” or “reckless.” For example, if a defendant was driving 100 miles per hour in a school zone and seriously injured a child, the court may award punitive damages.
Punitive damages often result in huge payoffs for plaintiffs, well beyond the money required to compensate them for their injuries. An experienced personal injury lawyer can generally get an idea early on if a case may warrant an award of punitive damages.
Factors That May Reduce the Value of a Case
In some instances, the existence of certain factors can reduce the amount of money the plaintiff can collect or bar them from collecting any money at all. Although they’re often unpleasant to think about, prospective plaintiffs should be aware of these factors so they can better estimate the value of their case.
Firstly, many jurisdictions have caps on certain kinds of damages. For example, many states limit the amount of damages a plaintiff can seek for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or mental anguish. This is intended to ease the burden on potential defendants, as plaintiffs might otherwise seek exorbitant amounts of non-economic damages because they’re not grounded in any concrete, measurable cost. According to the Center for Justice and Democracy, nine states have caps on non-economic damages.
Secondly, statutes of limitations may require the victim to file a lawsuit within a certain time after the accident. If the victim fails to file the lawsuit promptly, the victim permanently forfeits their right to legal recourse. According to Texas state law, the statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits is two years.
The injured party must weigh their options carefully. Often, the law is vague and the courts are difficult to navigate. It’s crucial to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. They can look at the facts of your case, lay out your options, and outline the pros and cons of bringing a lawsuit. Legal consultation can lend clarity to an otherwise uncertain moment in your life.
A serious accident can change your life in the blink of an eye. What were certainties of life, such as a steady income, good health, and financial stability, may now seem out of reach. It may be difficult to contemplate your future in this new reality. Thankfully, you don’t have to suffer in silence. The law creates recourse for those who have been wrongfully injured. A successful personal injury lawsuit can provide much needed financial assistance for the injured and their families. Contact The Law Offices of George Salinas today to get the legal help you deserve.