"What is My Personal Injury Claim Worth?"
Posted Thursday, November 12, 2009 by Christopher L. Thayer
This is probably the #1 question I get asked by my personal injury clients. The short answer: “It depends”. But, most clients or prospective clients don’t want to hear that, so I always take some time to explain what factors affect the value of their claim and how insurance adjusters view the process.
In Washington, a person with a personal injury claim, is entitled to recover two broad categories of damages: special damages and general damages. Special damages, also known as economic damages, are damages that are subject to precise calculation, such as medical expenses (must be “reasonable, related and necessary” to treat injuries/symptoms caused by the accident), future medical expenses (confirmed to be required by a healthcare provider), lost income or wages, lost future income (if any due to full or partial disability caused by injuries in the accident), and other costs and expenses that are subject to ready calculation. A good resource on this issue is to look at the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions (WPI). A free link to these can be found here.
General (or sometimes referred to as noneconomic) damages are defined as: “subjective, nonmonetary losses, including, but not limited to pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, disability or disfigurement incurred by the injured party, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, injury to reputation and humiliation, and destruction of the parent-child relationship.” RCW 4.56.250.
The tough part is how to calculate what constitutes fair compensation for general damages? Again, “that depends”. These days, most insurance companies have software that they rely on to calculate what they think is fair. This software is proprietary, but based on practice and experience, I have a pretty good idea of what data goes into the software at least – we just don’t know how in the world they come up with their calculations. And it is good to remember that the amount of damages an insurance company thinks you are entitled to based on some software program is not dispositive. You always have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit and let a jury or arbitrator decide what is fair. In my experience, several factors come into play in determining what constitutes fair compensation for general damages: nature and severity of injuries, the severity of symptoms (e.g., pain scale ranking of 1-10 is a common measure), the degree to which the injuries and symptoms impacted the client’s life as shown by objective evidence, and the degree to which any of the injuries or symptoms are permanent and may require future medical treatment. There are other considerations, which I don’t want to discuss in this forum, but these are the most significant factors in my experience.
So, what does this mean? Each personal injury case has to be assessed individually. You can’t just plug in numbers and come up with a precised calculation – notwithstanding that is what insurance companies do.
For more information, please contact Christopher Thayer at 206-805-1494.