When you’ve been hurt in a car accident, you must make urgent decisions. One of the most significant is whether to pursue a personal injury claim. Some people opt to accept what an insurance company offers. But that rarely covers what this accident will cost you. So, what are the factors impacting the value of your claim, and who will ultimately pay them? While no two cases are valued the same way, this summary gives some idea of what you’ll want to consider.
There are ways that a case value can be estimated, like multiplying medical bills by a flat amount or using certain formulas. These tools are imprecise but might help you avoid settling too easily. Yet so many things can affect settlement values. Was your vehicle a total loss or was it repairable but diminished in value? Did you need emergency medical care? Do you have an injury that is getting worse over time? Did you miss work? Are you struggling to do what you have in the past? Some losses are hard to quantify – mental anguish and emotional distress, difficulties with your spouse, or ongoing pain and suffering. In a fair settlement, each injury is considered. Often the most easily assessed is damage to your vehicle.
Getting Car Repair Estimate
Getting a car repair estimate can be a hassle, but it establishes a baseline for physical damages. You have an absolute right to choose your repair shop, but if you pick a shop insurance companies haven’t pre-approved, they might require extra steps. Always carefully research what shop you’ll go with, as substandard work means taking your vehicle in for further repairs. Document every step, so that you can prove what this has cost you. Renting a car also costs you time and money. Keep in mind that when repairs are completed, your vehicle may not be restored to its original value.
Diminished value claims cover this loss in vehicle value due to your accident. It’s normally established by combining the reasonable cost of necessary repairs with the difference between your vehicle’s fair market cash value before and after your accident. Hiring an independent appraiser is a must, as insurance companies tend to respect an experienced appraiser’s report. These reports look at the full history of the vehicle, including the year make and model, damage to the frame, and possible substandard repairs. Any loss in worth adds to the value of your claim. Sometimes though the damage is so great that your car is a total loss.
Total Loss Claim
A total loss claim means your vehicle’s value is at or less than the cost of repairs plus the salvage value (its value as scrap). You’ll have a chance to keep your vehicle when settling the claim, but keeping it means you lose out on the salvage value. A total loss vehicle can enhance your claim’s value since it places added burdens on you, like buying a new car or getting a rental. But the value varies depending on age, prior damage, and modifications you made after buying the car.
You don’t have to accept what insurance companies offer you. “If someone thinks they’re being cheated it’s always worth finding more comparable vehicles,” according to attorney Andrew Kim. Comparisons can establish, based on the value of vehicles of a similar year, make, and model, that your own vehicle is being undervalued. A more consistent way of determining your case’s value, though, is based on your medical expenses.
Medical expenses represent the bulk of your case’s Special Damages (damages that have a specific dollar loss). Emergency room visits can be costly. Yet assigning their value in your case isn’t as simple as it seems, as insurance carriers won’t be lenient just because you went to the ER. They will be on the lookout for potential overbilling or using the wrong specialist for your care. If you don’t see an ER doctor or go to Urgent Care, it can be harder to get insurance to cover later treatment. This will remain an issue as you seek medical treatment in your recovery phase.
There are many options available for medical care as you heal. You might choose a medical doctor and physical and massage therapists, or you might choose fields like chiropractic, acupuncture, or naturopathy. You must be completely honest with your providers and report every symptom. Failing to disclose anything can hurt your case’s value because your injuries won’t be properly documented, and insurance carriers won’t consider them.
If you don’t follow through with your provider’s treatment instructions, you’ll also damage your case. “It’s a pretty common defense practice to blame the person for their own pain and suffering,” attorney Andrew Kim reports, “and they will point to a doctor’s instructions and say, ‘they told you to do this, and you aren’t doing that, and that’s why you’re hurting’”. The best way around this is to follow your provider’s care instructions. Unfortunately, even if you follow them to the letter, you might need surgery and specialist care as well.
Any surgery, even a minor one, can add value to your case. Surgery is needed when time alone won’t get you back to pre-accident condition. You might also need specialty care such as injections, a dedicated neurologist, or a rehabilitation specialist. All these treatments can add value to your case, as they support your need for long-term medical care. It may not be possible to heal completely, however, and you could face disability and permanent impairment.
Determining if you’ve been disabled or permanently impaired can be a lengthy process. It might exhaust the policy limits of the at-fault party’s insurance carrier. Conditions involved include traumatic brain injuries, damage to sight and hearing, partial or full paralysis, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. A formal determination is always required and it’s likely you’ll see doctors from multiple fields. Obtaining a report from a life care planner can also help bolster your claim, as it establishes what kind of care you’ll need, and for how long. If your injuries cannot be resolved right away, any future care you need might affect your settlement as well.
Future Medical Care
Damages for future medical care aren’t always awarded, but if the healing process is lengthy and your injuries severe, they could add value to your case. The scope of your claim can be determined in several ways depending on whether you will need permanent medical care and will never fully recover, or if you’re making a claim for temporary medical costs while you complete your recovery. This part of your claim may require testimony from independent experts, yet even at trial you don’t need to establish beyond reasonable doubt that you’ll need this care. Alongside these medical expenses there are other forms of special (economic) damages you can recover. One example is lost wages.
Wage Loss Claim
If you want to add value to your case through a wage loss claim, you’ll need more than just your hourly wages and number of hours missed. You will need documents like paystubs, a doctor’s note excusing you from work, W2 or 1099 forms, and a signed statement from your employer confirming the time you missed and what your wages are. Gathering this paperwork is critical. It is hard evidence that you missed the time you claim you did, that you’re paid what you say you are, and that your time away was medically necessary. It’s also possible to pursue future lost wages and compensation for lost earning potential if you aren’t yet fully healed or are permanently disabled. Lost wages are a specific economic loss because of your accident; other losses can be harder to quantify.
Pain and Suffering
These are known as General Damages (any damage not tied to a specific economic harm). One of the most frequently claimed is pain and suffering. This is a broad term, reflecting almost any stress or torment your accident causes you. Calculating the value of pain and suffering is highly subjective, as no one person experiences trauma the same as another.
“Even if they don’t normally treat for it, you need to let all of your providers know about all of your injuries,” attorney Andrew Kim said. For a pain and suffering claim to add value to your case, your medical records need to document your physical pain and detail the effect of the accident on your mental health. One specific subset of pain and suffering claims that can be relevant are matters of mental anguish and emotion distress.
Mental anguish and emotional distress are broadly similar terms for the psychological damage suffered after a car accident. To impact the value of your case, you must experience levels of pain and trauma that go beyond ordinary feelings of anger, hurt, or fear. What you are feeling must be lasting and extreme and represent a psychological harm that came about because of the accident or worsened after it. You’ll need more than just records and testimony from mental healthcare providers to prove this. You’ll need to be completely honest about your emotional suffering and psychological state, possibly in public before a jury. Extreme emotional experiences like these can impact other general damages, such as being unable to function on an everyday basis.
Life After A Car Accident
A car accident can make it difficult or impossible to do even the most basic life tasks. Your auto accident might make it hard to brush your teeth and bathe, cook for your family, clean your house, or sit or stand without extreme pain. A claim for this kind of loss adds value to your case because it clearly lays out how your accident made you unable to fulfill your basic needs. It’s important to submit letters from friends and family who see you frequently and can detail how the accident affected you, as these provide evidentiary support for your day-to-day suffering.
This support is critical because it is coming from someone other than yourself. “People don’t necessarily believe the injured person when they talk about their injuries,” attorney Andrew Kim explains, “people believe the uninterested party more than the injured person because they have no incentive to exaggerate.” These statements can also show how you cannot provide your family with the kind of relationship you did before.
In Washington State, a loss of consortium claim is filed on behalf of loved ones when you cannot provide them with the deep, personal relationship you once did. For a spouse this isn’t just loss of sexual intimacy – they may also be deprived of your love and companionship. Likewise, claims can be made for your children because of their need for your love and guidance, and for your parents, because even if you’re an adult they lose out on this close relationship. These claims don’t directly add value to your own case because they aren’t filed for you, but they’re worth pursuing because your family members can be compensated for what your accident cost them. Loss of consortium claims mean you’re unable to live your life the way you did before.
After an accident, you face more than just difficulties earning money and doing household chores. You might lose the ability to enjoy your life because of the risk of aggravating your injuries and pain. Claims for these losses add value because they represent damage to the basic quality of your life on a fundamental level. Adjusters and juries will consider factors like age, prior health, and the size of your injuries in awarding compensation. Without firm evidence showing how you were kept from doing the things you loved, and that you have been trying to resume these things, the claim may not succeed. Hiring a car accident attorney is your best option for ensuring you’re compensated for this and any other kind of claim you file as part of your case.
EXPERIENCE YOU CAN TRUST
Hiring An Experienced Attorney
Any time you’re in an auto accident, hiring an experienced car accident attorney is one of the best decisions you can make. Getting any sizeable settlement without an injury attorney is almost impossible. Insurance companies have access to many more resources than you, and most people don’t know the related laws very well. Hiring an auto injury attorney means you have someone with that knowledge who can explain to you what will add the most value to your claim. They can remind you of the steps to take and time limits to meet. They are also a shield between you and insurance, so that you can focus on your recovery while they develop your case. It is always your choice whether you want to hire an attorney but going it alone may not provide the financial help you need after an accident.
While there are general guidelines for what adds value to an accident case, the facts of your accident might make moving forward seem impossible. Focusing on recovery should be your first goal. But if you’re facing massive medical bills, can’t work, and can’t do the things you love, it’s easy to make desperate choices. Instead, consider the help of a steady hand guiding you through the whole claim process, so your choices add value to your claim. We here at Park Chenaur and Associates have worked with many people in your situation and know what to do to best help you on your road to recovery. It can be a long road, but we’re there with you every step of the way.