Putting a dollar amount on your car accident claim is not an easy task. Several factors influence its value, and settlement negotiations usually focus on reaching an agreement about the value of your car accident claim. The at-fault driver, their insurance carrier, and their legal team will probably assess your claim’s value much lower than you and your attorney will.
Although most car accident claims settle long before going to trial, sometimes parties cannot agree on the value of a claim. In these cases, car accident victims may need to go to trial and let the court determine a claim’s value.
Your car accident lawyer can give you a rough estimate of what your claim is worth, but that estimate does not guarantee a specific outcome. Attorneys use a wide array of methods to determine the value of a claim, which typically include estimates for economic losses and non-economic losses related to your car accident injuries.
You can quantify economic losses like current medical expenses and lost wages much easier, but quantifying future medical expenses and non-economic costs such as pain and suffering is much more difficult. Valuing some aspects of your claim sometimes requires your attorney to consult with specialists and experts.
Even when your lawyer carefully evaluates your car accident claim to determine its worth, you cannot assume you will receive that amount in a settlement or from a jury verdict. A knowledgeable car accident attorney can advocate for you and help you fight for the maximum amount of compensation commensurate with your accident injuries. This guide provides a broad overview of the several factors that can increase or decrease the value of your car accident claim.
Economic Losses Included in the Value of Your Car Accident Claim
Total economic loss related to car accident injuries varies greatly among claims. Severe injuries lead to missed work and a pile of medical bills. If a child suffers car accident injuries, one or both parents need to miss work to care for their child. Severe traffic collisions are expensive; total economic losses can easily reach several hundred thousand dollars or more. Accident claims that result in the most economic loss generally result in more compensation than those with little economic loss, with some exceptions.
Examples of specific items that make up the economic loss portion of an accident claim include:
Medical Treatment Costs
Your medical bills begin to add up within minutes after you’re involved in a car accident. In severe traffic crashes, ambulances and paramedics arrive on the scene to take you and any other injured people to the nearest hospital for medical attention.
After racking up the bills for an ambulance ride and visit to the emergency department, you might accumulate many more medical expenses, including:
- Diagnostic imaging and other lab tests
- Surgery and accompanying expenses such as surgical nursing staff, supplies, and anesthesia
- Hospitalization for days or weeks, depending on the severity of your injuries
- Followup visits and aftercare
- Costs of long-term nursing care, in-home or in a facility, when severe injuries require ongoing care and treatment
Long-term nursing home facilities are among the most expensive parts of a car accident claim’s cost. To make matters worse, health insurance policies usually exclude coverage for long-term nursing care, leaving families on the hook for the bill.
A severe car accident often means missing work. In some cases, injuries are so severe that car accident victims cannot return to their jobs. If you have to miss any work at all as a result of your car accident injuries, your attorney will include lost wages in your claim. Once you have exhausted all your holidays, sick pay, and other paid time off, you must take unpaid leave from work.
Depending on your circumstances, you might qualify for disability benefits. Yet, disability payments only cover approximately two-thirds of your regular wage. The more time you miss from work, the greater the value of your car accident claim. If you suffered catastrophic injuries that prevent you from returning to your job or working elsewhere, your lawyer will also include estimated future lost income in the value of your car accident claim.
Severe injuries take a toll on the bodies of car accident victims. The road to recovery can be long, taking months to heal. For many accident victims, rehabilitation is a major part of healing. Some car accident victims spend so much time in a hospital bed that they lose muscle function in the area where they were injured and throughout their entire body. Physical therapy plays a large part in regaining muscle loss and helping accident victims increase any lost range of motion as a result of injuries.
Other car accident victims suffer permanent injuries that interfere with performing daily tasks, so they need occupational therapy to help them learn how to cope with their injuries and learn new ways of doing things. Speech and language therapy and mental health services can also be part of a car accident victim’s rehabilitation program. The more intense and involved your rehabilitation plan, the more you deserve from your car accident claim.
Home Modification Costs
Returning home after a car accident is an exciting time for those who have had to spend weeks or months in a hospital room. Yet, leaving the hospital does not always translate to complete recovery. Homecoming often requires making changes to make your home more accessible, especially if you have suffered a permanent injury.
Examples of home modification costs that can increase the value of your car accident claim include:
- Constructing a wheelchair ramp
- Installing handrails in hallways and major walkways
- Installing grab bars in the shower, tub, and toilet area
- Creating a main floor living space to avoid using stairs
Costs for making home modifications range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars for a large remodel. Any changes you need to make to your home more accessible because of your car accident injuries can increase the value of your car accident claim.
Domestic Service Replacement Costs
Before sustaining car accident injuries, you likely contributed to maintaining your household and house in multiple ways. Debilitating injuries can temporarily or permanently interfere with someone’s ability to perform certain tasks. Even when family members chip in, it still might not be enough help, especially if family members are caring for an accident victim. Hiring outside help is often necessary for many families.
Examples of the types of replacement services you or your family might need to hire after a car accident include:
- Lawn care service
- Snow removal service
- Cleaning service
- Laundry service
- Grocery shopping or grocery delivery service
- Babysitter, nanny, or daycare
- Personal assistant to drive, help with errands, transport kids, and do other personal tasks
Any services you already use will not impact the value of your car accident claim. If, however, you need to hire additional services as a result of your injuries, the cost of these can increase your claim’s value.
Non- Economic Losses Included in the Value of Your Car Accident Claim
The financial consequences of a car accident only make up part of the losses an accident victim and their family need to face in the aftermath of an accident. Car accident victims need to physically deal with their injuries and overcome any related obstacles, as well as deal with the emotional fallout. Your lawyer will evaluate the ways your injuries have impacted your life in less tangible ways. The greater the impact, the greater the value of your claim.
Non-economic damages that can increase the value of your claim include:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Reduced quality of life
- Loss of consortium with a spouse, if applicable
- Scarring and disfigurement for severe injuries that leave permanent scars
Placing a value on the non-economic portions of a car accident claim poses challenges for lawyers, often related to the highly subjective nature of non-economic damages. Lawyers with experience can typically pinpoint a range, but they also rely on expert opinions and past cases to guide them. Three of the most crucial considerations that can affect the value of the non-economic portion of your car accident claim are the severity of your injury, the nature of your injury, and your likelihood for a full recovery.
Severity of Injury
Some exceptions exist, but typically, the more injuries you suffer in a car accident and the more severe they are, the higher the value of your car accident claim. Minor injuries often heal and do not require accident victims to remain hospitalized for weeks or months.
On the other hand, accident victims who suffer severe injuries such as back injuries, traumatic brain injuries, or spinal cord injuries miss massive amounts of work. In some cases, accident victims face permanent injuries that prevent them from returning to their job. These catastrophic injuries often increase the value of a claim because they come with high amounts of non-economic costs.
Nature of Injury
Your car accident lawyer will review the nature of your injury when determining the value of your claim. Injuries that lead to lifelong discomfort and pain can also cause anger, humiliation, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Serious injuries that can make a car accident claim worth more include anything that leaves permanent effects.
Amputees, for example, may face the physical and emotional pain of losing a limb, plus cope with the frustration of learning how to use a prosthetic device. Car accident victims who suffer scars from burns or cuts must face a constant reminder of their accident when scars appear on highly visible areas of their bodies.
Chances of Full Recovery
The value of your car accident claim will decrease if the physician treating you expects you to make a full recovery from your car accident injuries. Conversely, if you have suffered a permanent disability or condition, or your chances for full recovery are low, your attorney will ask for more compensation from the insurance carrier involved in the accident claim.
Your long-term prognosis depends heavily on the severity and nature of your injuries, providing support for the amount of money your attorney requests for damages. Your attorney will likely discuss your chances of a full recovery with your doctor to place an accurate value on the non-economic portion of your claim.
Insurance Policy Limits Affect How Much Your Car Accident Claim Is Worth
Auto insurance carriers play a big part in determining the value of a car accident claim. For example, New Jersey is a no-fault state requiring drivers to carry a minimum of $15,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. The first insurance claim you file after your car accident is under your own PIP policy. If you do not have mandatory PIP coverage, you will begin by filing a claim against the at-fault driver.
Severe traffic accident injuries typically exceed PIP policy limits, especially when drivers only have minimum PIP coverage. Once you have exhausted your PIP policy limit, you can file a claim under the other driver’s bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage. Unfortunately, some drivers do not carry bodily injury. Those who have BIL coverage might not have a big enough policy to provide you with the full and fair compensation you deserve for your car accident injuries.
For example, your lawyer decides your claim is potentially worth a million dollars, but if the driver’s insurance policy only goes up to $500,000, their coverage could create a practical limit on your compensation. Serious car accidents lead to costly medical treatment, lost wages, and other losses, all of which can also exhaust or exceed BIL coverage limits.
A trusted car accident lawyer can decipher the complicated issues that surround a car accident claim and determine how much it is worth, freeing you up to focus on healing and rehabilitation. Additionally, a knowledgeable attorney can handle communications and negotiations with insurance companies, protecting you from their often-questionable tactics.