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What is my case worth?

People don't plan on getting hurt in car accidents or tripping over things, but it happens. Millions of people suffer personal injuries like these each year. And they often lead to lawsuits.

As the victim of another person's negligence, you're usually entitled to fair and adequate compensation as damages. Damages are meant to help make things right again - payment for medical bills and the pain you wouldn't have had if not for the other person's carelessness.

What's fair and adequate? What's your case worth? It's different in each case. And it depends on many things, like the type of injury, how serious it is, economic damages and losses, and if you were at fault in any way. Generally there are three types of damages:

  • Economic losses to date

  • Future economic losses

  • Compensation for the personal injury itself (pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, etc.)

Past Economic Loss

Past economic loss is easy to figure out. It includes:

  • Medical care and related expenses

  • Expenses for over-the-counter or prescription drugs

  • Lost income caused by being unable to work

  • Additional child care or home maintenance costs

  • Mileage to and from the hospital

Depending on what you do for a living and the impact the accident has on your lifestyle, there are probably many other damages. Just ask yourself: What are the out-of-pocket expenses for me and my family as a result of my injuries?

Future Economic Losses

Future economic losses are a little tougher to figure out. Expert testimony usually is needed to help the jury understand your injury and how it hurts your ability to make a living.

Loss of future earning capacity is the difference between:

  • How much you were capable of earning over your lifetime before the injury, and

  • How much you're capable of making now with any permanent physical problems caused by the accident

Doctors are used as experts to determine your permanent physical limitations, such as difficulty walking, standing, lifting, bending or carrying. A vocational expert then figures out the jobs you could do before the injury, based on your education, training and experience. The expert then compares that to the jobs you can do now with the permanent limitations identified by the doctors.

The difference between the earnings for those jobs you were capable of doing before the accident and what you're now capable of doing is called loss of earning capacity.

Other Damages Are Covered, Too

Other economic losses also include medical and related costs, such as:

  • Medical treatment and therapy

  • Medications

  • Life support systems or long-term care

Damages for the Injury

Damages for the injury itself are hard to figure, too. These damages are usually called non-economic damages. Unlike medical bills, they're not easy to measure or put dollar amounts on. They include:

  • Pain and suffering

  • Permanent physical disability or disfigurement

  • Loss of social and educational experiences, such as missed school or vacation

  • Emotional damages, such as stress, embarrassment, depression or strains on family relationships. The inability to take care of children, worry over the effects of an accident on an unborn child and interference with marital relations are good examples

There are no books or guides for juries to use here. Numbers can't be plugged into a computer - it doesn't understand human experiences and feelings. It's impossible to place an exact dollar figure these losses. But a dollar figure is needed because these life experiences are valuable and the law requires fair and adequate compensation.

Making the Calculations

Lawyers sometimes ask jurors to think about how much a reasonable person would take for these losses:

  • What would a reasonable person with no injuries take for not being able to lift his children?

  • How much would a normal young woman take if she can't ever again have sexual relations with her husband?

But jurors don't use a formula, and neither should you. What will a reasonable jury think is fair and adequate compensation based upon the facts of your case and the opinions of the doctors and vocational experts? There's no formula or guide. There are journals of past settlements and verdicts that also provide good insight on the value of cases. However, each case has its own unique facts and circumstances.

Comparative Fault

California has comparative negligence laws. They limit your damages if you were partially at fault for your injury by applying your percentage of fault to your total damages. However, you should still pursue a case even if you may be found to be partly at fault. You didn't plan on getting hurt, and you shouldn't feel ashamed or guilty about filing a lawsuit. You shouldn't have to pay the financial and emotional costs of an injury caused by someone else.

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