Understanding the Value of a Personal Injury Settlement
Knowing how settlement offers are determined may help you know if your offer is a fair one
Receiving a settlement offer in a personal injury case can leave you feeling perplexed. Clients often wonder why an opposing party, usually an insurance company, proposes what seems like a random amount to resolve their claim. Although determining settlement values isn’t an exact science, certain factors significantly influence the offers made by insurance companies.
In essence, a pretrial settlement aims to estimate what a potential jury might award if the case went to court. These estimates hinge on various elements, including the case’s facts, the location and composition of the potential jury, and the expertise of the lawyers involved. However, at its core, the projected verdict mainly depends on what a jury could grant in each specific case.
In a typical personal injury case, such as a car accident or slip-and-fall, a jury typically awards two types of damages if they find the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s injury, often called “economic” and “non-economic” damages.
Economic damages are straight-forward. For example, if a plaintiff has incurred $11,800 in medical expenses and $401 in lost wages due to the accident, they can ask the jury to award $12,201 for these specific losses. While defendant lawyers can challenge these figures, the jury can grant the requested amount if they find the defendant responsible for the plaintiff’s injury.
Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are more challenging to quantify. This category covers what many people think of in personal injury cases: pain and suffering, permanent injury, and loss of enjoyment of life. Jurors receive minimal guidance from the judge when determining these dam-ages. There’s no formula or checklist for them to follow; they simply rely on their instincts.
So, how can anyone assess this category’s value? The answer lies in the data collected by the plaintiff’s lawyers and insurance companies from local courthouses. This data offers insights into how juries typically assess pain and suffering awards in a specific county. However, the data is only part of the story. Juries can sometimes award high amounts when upset with a defendant, or they might find a defendant liable but grant nothing for pain and suffering. It’s worth noting that the old “three times medicals” standard isn’t a reliable rule anymore.
While this information sheds light on how settlement offers are determined, the critical question remains: How can you know if you’ve received a fair offer? The answer largely depends on your lawyer’s experience. When your lawyer suggests a settlement figure, it’s based on all the factors mentioned earlier and their educated assessment of the case’s worth. While it might seem like peering into a crystal ball, you might be surprised at how often experienced lawyers can accurately predict the future.