You’ve just been in a car accident. Naturally, one of the first questions you’re probably asking yourself is ‘how much will all of this cost’.
If the accident wasn’t your fault, chances are you’re following that question up with ‘do I have a car accident claim?’. It’s hard to answer that question with certainty, but a good injury lawyer will be able to give you a better sense of your case.
Of course, you’re probably wondering how much your car accident claim is worth. The truth is, no good lawyer will give you that answer right away. The calculations that go into determining the value of your claim take time, and can’t be completed until you have a better sense of your medical bills and other accident-related costs.
However, we can give you a better idea of how the value of your accident claim is calculated.
Do Insurance Companies and Lawyers Calculate Claim Value Differently?
Most of the time, if you’re making a car accident compensation claim, you’ll be dealing with car insurance providers. Since car insurance providers usually try to spend as little as possible on insurance claims, it’s natural to wonder if your lawyer and the insurance company will come up with different numbers for compensation.
They might, and that's a big part of why you need a car accident lawyer. They'll know how much a reasonable offer should be, and will also know how to push to make sure you get the compensation you deserve.
But, there is some good news. Insurance companies and lawyers generally use one of two methods to determine the value of a claim. Both your lawyer and the insurance company should even use similar numbers.
So, while the insurance company might fight your claim or try to lower the total compensation you’re owed, they’ll still be using a similar process to calculate compensation.
The Per Diem Method:
This compensation method is slightly less common and often used in cases where your injuries are such that you have an extended recovery period.
For instance, if your arm was broken in the accident and you required several surgeries to restore normal function, you might be unable to work for several months. In addition to medical costs and other out-of-pocket expenses, you might be better off with a per-diem amount for the time of your recovery.
One way to approach per-diem compensation is to calculate the value of your lost wages per day. The amount assigned to your per-diem claim can be a little fiddly, however. Severe injuries generally get more in pain and suffering compensation. We’ll talk more about the different things you can be compensated for later.
You might also get a slightly higher amount if there were aggravating circumstances. Those types of calculations are more common in the other compensation equation, however.
The Multiplier Method:
This method tends to be slightly more common, though the numbers it draws from are similar.
The multiplier method multiplies the amount of your ‘actual’ damages, meaning concrete things like medical costs and lost wages, by a certain number to calculate things like pain and suffering. The total is then what you request in your claim.
This method used to use a common multiplier, 3, in almost all cases. However, insurance companies have been fighting back against this universal multiplier, so the actual multiplier in your case may end up being significantly different.
For instance, if you are found partially at fault for the accident, your multiplier will be lower. That’s because the other party isn’t legally responsible for 100% of the damages at that point, and so some of the burden of your costs is passed to you.
On the other hand, aggravating circumstances, like if the other driver was intoxicated at the time, can add to the multiplier used. Severe injuries can also increase your compensation multiplier since you’ve experienced more pain and suffering.
Regardless of which calculation is used to determine the value of your car accident claim, you need to be able to defend the number, and the calculations used to get the total.
What Qualifies for Compensation:
What qualifies for compensation, and what doesn’t, can seem highly arbitrary from the outside. The truth is that the dollar amount your case comes to is an attempt to properly compensate you for the situation. But there is no clear value anyone can place on things like pain and suffering, so the totals end up being a combination of concrete costs, things that can be measured like your medical bills, and undefined costs like pain and suffering or mental trauma.
That’s not to say that your pain and suffering isn’t just as important and worthy of compensation as your medical bills. Rather, compensation understands that no two people experience or value those subjective circumstances in the same way.
The arbitrary nature of the value of your compensation claim is actually to protect you. It allows your lawyer to argue for the most substantial claims in the case that you are more impacted than most would be in similar circumstances and avoids disqualifying any experience until the whole situation has been evaluated.
That said, this short guide can help guide your expectations.
This is a concrete number that often contributes to your compensation claim. Lost wages can mean two things, the wages lost as an immediate consequence of your accident, and some of the potential wages lost in cases of serious or permanent injury. For instance, an office worker in a car accident can ask for compensation for lost wages due to a broken leg. That number will include wages lost while they are actively recovering from the injury, potentially including time on painkillers than prevent them from working.
But a construction worker with the same injury may have a different kind of lost wages calculation. Since the injury has the potential to make it more difficult for a construction worker to work in their chosen profession, they can also claim wages moving forward. Those kinds of claims have to wait until enough recovery has passed to tell if the injury will be permanent, and what level of functional impairment it’s caused.
Similarly, you might be entitled to lost wages if you learned a technical skill, like hairdressing, massage, or plumbing, only to have an accident cause physical disability such that you can no longer practice that trade. This type of loss is called loss of earning potential.
This type of compensation can be more difficult to prove and receive, but your car accident lawyer should be able to tell you if you might be eligible to receive that kind of compensation.
Of course, medical expenses are counted in your compensation claim. There is a fine line you need to travel here, however. You need to seek medical attention as appropriate.
Especially if you were in a relatively severe car accident, you need to seek medical care as soon as possible. Even if you think you weren’t hurt, adrenaline might be hiding the pain from an injury.
But, while you should seek immediate care and continue receiving care as recommended by your doctor, you shouldn’t seek additional care in the hope that it will be covered by your compensation claim.
For instance, if your doctor recommends a month of regular physical therapy for an injured shoulder, you probably won’t be able to claim compensation if you choose to continue PT for another month. You also won’t be able to list unrelated medical care. A chiropractor might be appropriate medical care for a back issue, but they probably won’t be for a soft tissue injury or a concussion.
It can also be more difficult to receive compensation for alternative medical care providers. Acupuncture may be part of your road to recovery, but your car accident lawyer might recommend against including it in your medical expenses for compensation.
Your lawyer will likely add the damage to your vehicle, things like the cost for repair or replacement, to your out of pocket expenses as a result of the accident.
But the damage to your vehicle can also have a big impact on claims of pain and suffering and injury compensation. The sad truth is that, if your car was only minorly damaged in the accident, it’s likely that the insurance company will argue that you could not have been hurt that badly.
However, in more severe accidents, vehicle damage can also work in your favor. If your car was badly damaged or totaled, your lawyer may be able to use that as evidence that your injuries are as severe as you and your doctor claim.
Contact a Lawyer:
Of course, no matter what your claim's final value, it's critical that you get the help and advice of a qualified lawyer as soon as possible.
The Law Office of Joel J. Kofsky can help. We’re a personal injury office, but that includes specific situations like car accidents and other possible causes of injury. We’re happy to answer your questions, even if you aren’t sure whether you can make a car accident claim.