The value of your personal injury case is determined by two components:  “economic damages” and “general damages.”

The other factors that determine the value of your personal injury case are 1) the availability and amount of insurance coverage and 2) if there is any comparative fault if your own actions contributed to your injury.

Like almost everything in the law, the answer to the question about what your personal injury case is worth is:

It depends on the facts and circumstances of your specific case.

Economic Damage in Personal Injury Cases

Economic damages refer to your reimbursement for bills you have already incurred from medical treatment. They include doctor’s bills, physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, pain management procedures like epidural injections and/or surgical procedures and/or the cost of future medical treatments you may need as a result of your injuries, such as an anticipated future surgery. The amount of economic damages for past and future medical treatment is limited to the “reasonable cost of reasonably necessary medical treatment.” (See California Civil Jury Instructions “CACI” 3903A.) It is up to you, the injured person bringing the lawsuit, who is known as the “plaintiff,” to prove that the medical treatment was necessary and that the cost of that medical treatment was “reasonable.”  The more severe your injuries, the higher your medical bills and/or the greater the need for future medical treatments and therefore the higher the potential value of your case.

Doctor Going Over Medical Insurance With Patient

Past And Future Lost Earnings 

Economic damages also consist of your past and future lost earnings.  To recover damages for future lost earnings (i.e. the amount of money you will lose in the future as a result of your injuries) you must prove the amount of your income/earnings/salary/wages that you are reasonably certain to lose in the future because you were injured in the accident. If you own a business or are self-employed, proving economic damages for past and future lost earnings can be challenging since your income typically varies over time. It is easier to prove past and future lost earnings if you are an hourly or salary employee because one can see how much work you missed or will miss due to your injuries and what you would have made based on your hourly wage or salary.

Lost Earning Capacity

Loss of earning capacity is similar to but different than past and future lost earnings. Lost earning capacity refers to the loss of a person’s ability to earn money as a result of the injury and the Plaintiff must prove, almost always through expert testimony, the extent of the reasonable value of that loss to him or her. [See CACI 3903D (Lost Earning Capacity).] 

When an individual is physically injured, they may lose the ability to work in the same type of job.  The injured person may not be able to work for the same duration as they could prior to the injury.  Most seriously, the injury may prevent a person from working at all. Therefore, impairment of the capacity to work is an injury separate from the actual loss of earnings. A plaintiff can recover both past and future loss of earnings and lost earning capacity. These two types of earnings are separate but often interrelated. 

General Damages

General damages refer to the compensation you can receive for all the consequences of your injuries.  You can be awarded money for the physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience, grief, anxiety, and emotional distress related to your accident and injuries. There are many types of general damages. (See California Civil Jury Instruction 3905A). No fixed standard exists for deciding the amount of these general damages. During a trial, jurors are instructed to use their judgment to decide a reasonable amount based on the evidence presented in the trial and their common sense. 

General damages are how an injured party gets money above and beyond their economic damages (e.g. past medical bills and lost earnings/lost earning capacity). The amount of general damages an insurance company or a jury provides is usually directly proportional to the extent and severity of the injuries. 

For example, if you are in a minor impact auto accident where you suffer what is commonly referred to as “whiplash” injuries or “soft tissue” injuries which result from the straining and spraining of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in your neck and back, you are not going to get the same amount of general damages for pain and suffering as someone involved in a serious accident that has life-altering, catastrophic injuries, such as the loss of a limb or someone who is rendered a paraplegic with the inability to walk or work for the rest of their lives.

Availability of Insurance Coverage

You should understand that often the value of your injury case is also determined not just by the nature and extent of your injuries but by the availability of insurance to cover the claim. Even if your case is potentially worth more than the available insurance, the insurance policy limits will ultimately determine your recovery in most, but not all, personal injury cases.  For example, the minimum required bodily injury insurance coverage in California is a $15, 000 per person/$30, 000 per accident. In a serious accident, the cost of medical treatment and your pain and suffering can be much greater than $15,000. Therefore, if you have what is called uninsured or underinsured  (“UM/UIM”) motorist coverage, your own insurance company can pay for the remainder of your medical bills and/or general damages. Your lawyer can and should handle the UIM claim for you. Your UM/UIM policy serves as a safety cushion. 

With these factors in mind, you are in a position to value your personal injury case. 

What if You Are “At Fault” for the Accident?

We have The Doctrine of Comparative Fault to outline what to do in this situation.  In California, and in many other states, there is something known as “comparative fault” if your own negligence contributed to your harm or injuries.  You may have been partly responsible for the collision or your injuries in a personal injury case, such as a slip and fall matter, even if you don’t think you were. Your monetary damages will be reduced by the percentage that you are found responsible for your own injuries. For example, if you are found 50% at fault for the collision, and the value of your case is $100, 000, your damages could be reduced by 50%, to $50, 000 if you are found to be 50% comparatively at fault. The doctrine of comparative fault is a flexible, common-sense concept, under which a jury properly may consider and evaluate the relative responsibility of various parties for an injury.

Contact Us for a Free Personal Injury Case Evaluation

JCS Law Firm works with Southern California Personal Injury clients, helping them recover the full amount of compensation they deserve. If you've been injured in any type of car, motorcycle, semi-truck, or SUV accident, Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your case and get started filing your claim. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain with our client satisfaction guarantee!

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Joshua Cohen Slatkin
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Personal Injury & Employment Lawyer Serving Greater Los Angeles
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