How Attorneys Calculate Damages in Personal Injury Cases

When you have been injured and the injury is the fault of someone else’s negligence or carelessness, you have the right to compensation via filing a personal injury case, which is a civil complaint against a person, business, or other entity.

Obtaining an experienced personal injury lawyer is an important first step and should be done as early as possible after your injury. They can advise you how to keep track of expenses, lost wages, and other costs that have impacted your life as a result of the accident. Then, they collect everything together and arrive at a dollar figure to ask for in damages from the defendant (or their insurer). This is typically comprised of “compensatory” damages.

But how is that figure derived? How do lawyers determine how much money to ask for in a personal injury case?

There are clear and concrete costs, such as the cost of every medical bill, test, any ambulance ride costs, rehabilitation costs, and any other medical-related expenditures. There may also be hard costs that include damage to property, such as your car, house, or other belongings. For example, if your car was damaged in an accident, your lawyer would then include the cost of the repairs in the settlement figure. There are work costs as well: If you had to miss work as a result of the injury, whether due to recovery or rehabilitation, or simply to attend doctor appointments, you are entitled to include the amount of any lost wages due to those appointments, including expected ongoing lost wages if the rehabilitation process continues over a long term.

In addition to these hard costs, there are also costs that can be more difficult to quantify and are considered “non-economic,” as they can’t clearly be assigned a value like harder costs that give a bill or invoice. But these may also factor into calculations of your damages. Emotional distress covers the emotional impact of an accident or other trauma and can include anxiety, depression, fear, and other similar difficulties. These are sometimes bundled into a general “pain and suffering” category, which basically is an umbrella term for long-term suffering you experience as the result of the injury, outside of strict medical costs. This category can also include “loss of enjoyment” damages, meaning the injury has caused you to miss out on things you previously enjoyed, such as forms of exercise and recreation or the pursuit of your hobby. Loss of consortium is also sometimes included in arriving at a damages figure—if the accident has resulted in the loss of your sexual relationship or companionship with a spouse, that can also be a compensatory damage.

Compensatory damages in all categories are designed to compensate the person in order to make them “whole” again in every way. But, in addition to compensatory damages, personal injury cases can also include punitive damages as part of the calculation, which are awarded when the defendant can be proven to have been egregiously careless, reckless, or even malicious. This is a way to seek to punish the defendant and hopefully to serve as a deterrent to others. These figures can grow quite high and can be a major part of your personal injury claim. Some states have put a cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be requested.

Together, compensatory and punitive damages are calculated by your attorney to arrive at a total damages amount for your personal injury case. Whether your case goes to trial or is eventually settled out of court, this article serves to provide background and understanding on how these figures are derived and what components go into calculating how much to request in a personal injury case. Experienced lawyers know how to assign value to various non-economic damages that may be included in your case, as well as when it is appropriate to attach punitive damages to a case and to calculate the value of those amounts.

Personal injury can take a huge toll on your life and have repercussions that can last for years. If you file a personal injury case, a lawyer acts as your trusted advisor in preparing a case that reflects all the damage caused to you as a result of the accident or incident you experienced.

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