The Two Biggest Factors That May Determine Your Compensation
Accidents do not just change your life in the blink of an eye: They also change your finances. Bills start piling up fast. You must miss time at work during your recovery, especially if you need surgery or cannot handle your current job responsibilities. You have medical bills to take care of. You might have to make modifications to your home to allow you to live comfortably in spite of your injuries.
Filing a personal injury claim can give you some financial leeway and provide the funds you need to meet the challenges you now face in your life. Until you file that claim, however, you cannot know exactly what the insurance company will offer you. You may have no idea what final resolution you and the insurance company will come to until you have moved through the claims process.
Factor #1: Who Caused Your Accident?
The person or entity that caused your accident represents one of the most important factors in determining the worth of your claim. By identifying the entity responsible for your accident, you can better determine what you can expect from your claim. Consider some of these scenarios:
- You suffered injuries in an auto accident with the driver of a personal vehicle. No other factors contributed to the accident, and that driver carried a bare minimum insurance policy. In Florida, a driver can carry a policy that offers as little as $10,000 of coverage for property damage per accident and $10,000 of coverage for personal injuries in an accident. If more than two people suffer injuries in the auto accident, personal injury coverage may max out at $20,000 of coverage for everyone injured in the accident.
- You suffered injuries in an auto accident with a semi-truck. The driver had been on the road for several hours of an eleven-hour shift and failed to notice your car in his blind spot, leading to a sideswipe collision. Commercial truck drivers often carry higher insurance policies than the drivers of passenger vehicles. In some cases, the fleet the driver works for may carry insurance on all of its drivers, which may increase the funds you can receive after an accident.
- You suffered injuries in an accident with a drunk driver. That driver hung out at a local bar, where he made it clear that he planned to get back in his vehicle and head across town an hour after sitting down. He continued drinking throughout his time at the bar, and the staff continued to serve him despite their knowledge of his plans to drive. As a result, not only does the drunk driver face liability for your accident, the bar that over-served that driver may share liability for your injuries.
- You suffered injuries in a collision with a passenger vehicle following a tire blowout. The tire had been placed on the vehicle only days before, and the driver did nothing to increase the risks of an accident. Unfortunately, the tire blew out due to a manufacturer’s defect. The manufacturer knew about the defect, but had, as of yet, taken no steps to recall the impacted tires. As a result, the tire manufacturer may bear liability for the accident and, therefore, may need to pay compensation for your injuries.
In a simple accident—one with clear liability—you may have a single individual clearly responsible for the accident and, therefore, for any injuries that occur as a result. In many cases, responsibility for payment passes to that individual or entity’s insurance company. In other cases, however, you may not have straightforward liability. When you have multiple parties or entities who share responsibility for the accident, you may have grounds to go after compensation from all of the involved parties.
Factor #2: What Injuries Did You Suffer?
To claim compensation for injuries in an accident, you must suffer injuries. Even minor injuries can give you grounds to file a personal injury claim. You will, however, naturally receive more compensation for injuries that have higher medical costs and that cause more substantial limitations in your life.
The Factors Included in Your Personal Injury Claim
When you file a personal injury claim, you will include several key factors. The items you include will not guarantee you compensation. By including these elements, however, you will help display to the insurance company or, if needed, to the court what costs your accident has caused in your life.
Following a serious accident, medical expenses may add up fast—often faster than you realize. Keep track of all of your medical bills following an accident, even if you know or suspect that the responsible party carries only minimum insurance. Your medical expenses may include:
- Ambulance transport to the hospital from the scene of the accident
- Treatment in the emergency room
- X-rays and scans, including both immediate scans and follow-up scans following your injuries
- A hospital stay
- A stay in a rehabilitation facility, if needed
- Psychological therapy, including therapy to help with PTSD after an accident or therapy that helps you cope with the psychological impact of lifelong injuries
- Physical therapy to help restore flexibility, strength, and mobility after your accident
- Durable medical equipment, including crutches, wheelchairs, prosthetics, scooters, and other devices to assist with movement
- The cost of in-home care
- Equipment needed to assist with mobility or convenience in your home following your injuries: shower chairs or lift devices for use at home, for example
- Occupational therapy to help you relearn how to perform normal activities following the accident
In addition to expenses paid to a doctor or hospital, you may need to make alterations to your home or vehicle as a result of your injuries. Some people with injuries that require the use of a wheelchair, for example, may need a wheelchair van that has a list to accommodate the wheelchair. Others may need specialized vehicles designed to use hand strength, rather than the familiar pedals used on most vehicles. You may also need to modify your home, installing wheelchair ramps, walk-in showers, grab bars, and wider doorways following an accident with lasting injuries.
Lost time at work
Many accidents cause injuries that prevent victims from returning to work immediately. If you suffer serious injuries, you may need to stay home and recover no matter what type of job you work in. Other types of injuries may substantially restrict you because of the type of job you work. For example, if you suffer a traumatic brain injury, you may lack the ability to return to a creative profession until your brain has a chance to heal. If you work in a highly physical profession, such as construction, broken limbs may keep you off the job until you make a full recovery.
Even if you can return to work shortly after your accident, you may miss work regularly for appointments and therapy. Future surgeries in your recovery may also prevent you from returning to work for several days or weeks at a time. While some employers offer sick time that will help you make up that lost time, you also will no longer have that sick time to use for other reasons, including family illnesses. If you work in an hourly job, you may not have significant sick time to use.
Lost earning potential
In some cases, accident victims can never return to their former professions: a victim with spinal cord injuries, for example, might lack the ability to return to a manufacturing job that requires a lot of heavy lifting. When you claim lost earning potential, it can provide a valuable source of funds while you recover from your injuries. Equally importantly, those funds can help you seek the training you need to pursue employment in a future occupation. Claiming lost earning potential can give you the time you need to decide what you want to do with your life or how you want to handle your future following substantial injuries.
Pain and suffering
Your injuries alone cause substantial pain and suffering, preventing you from enjoying the same high quality of life you did before your injuries. In addition to physical pain, which in some cases can linger for the rest of your life following an accident, your injuries may cause you to suffer in a variety of ways:
- Missed events
- Giving up activities that you once enjoyed, including athletic activities or hobbies that you can no longer perform due to your injuries
- Changed relationships with friends and family members due to traumatic brain injury
- Psychological trauma from the accident or from your injuries
Talking with your lawyer can help you better establish exactly how your accident impacted your life and how you should include pain and suffering as part of your claim. Often, insurance companies base pain and suffering on the medical cost of your injuries. In some cases, however, your pain and suffering might have more impact than your medical expenses would imply. By talking with a lawyer, you can often increase the amount you claim for pain and suffering after your accident.
Common Injury Costs
The extent of your injuries can make a big difference in your costs following a serious accident. For example:
- Traumatic brain injury. Depending on the severity of traumatic brain injury, treatment can cost between $85,000 and $3 million. Some victims of traumatic brain injury require care for the rest of their lives: they might not have the ability to function alone, or might put themselves in dangerous situations without someone to watch over them. Traumatic brain injury victims may also need substantial occupational therapy to relearn activities that they performed with ease before the accident.
- Spinal cord damage. Victims with spinal cord damage often face some of the highest medical costs. Injuries that cause incomplete motor function alone can cost more than $347,000 to treat. Patients with paraplegia, or paralysis from the waist down, can face initial costs of $518,000, while victims with low tetraplegia, or paralysis that occurs from the neck down, may face costs of $769,000. These costs represent only the first year of treatment; future years’ treatment can cost between $69,000 and $184,000 each year, depending on the extent of the injuries and the amount of medical treatment needed. In addition, victims of spinal cord damage may need to make extensive modifications to their homes and lifestyles as a result of their injuries, increasing expenses still further.
- Amputations. Amputation of a foot or leg can cost between $30,000 and $60,000 for the initial hospital stay. Over the following three years, patients may expect to pay that much again in follow-up costs. Not only that, the cost of amputation often lasts for the rest of a patient’s life: if that patient chooses to use a prosthesis to improve motor function or mobility, that device may require replacement every three to five years. Some devices may require more frequent replacement to maintain maximum mobility and function. A prosthetic limb can cost between $5,000 and $50,000, depending on the technology included in the limb and its expected function.
- Broken bones. Without surgical intervention, broken bones cost an average of $2,500. Without health insurance, this can pose a substantial challenge for many patients. Many broken bones from accidents, however, do require surgical intervention to set properly. Surgical help to set an arm after a break can cost $14,000 or more. Broken bones may also require follow-up treatment, and patients with severely broken bones may need physical therapy to help them regain full strength and mobility in the affected limb. As a result, medical costs can add up fast from even minor injuries.
If you suffered injuries in an accident, having an attorney on your side can go a long way toward helping increase the compensation you receive for your injuries. Consider speaking with a personal injury lawyer as soon after your accident as possible to get a better idea of the worth of your personal injury claim.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765