Written by Tony Chiaramonte on 09/01/2020

How Much to Ask For in a Personal Injury Settlement

Say you’re hurt in a serious accident. You have the right to pursue a personal injury case against the person you believe to be responsible for your injuries. 

A victim can bring a personal injury case for any incidents causing preventable injury, including:

  • Car accidents
  • Slips-and-falls
  • Nursing home abuse and neglect
  • Product liability
  • Medical malpractice
  • Pharmacy errors
  • Truck accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents

But only 5% of all personal injury cases in the United States end up going to trial. That means the majority of all personal injury claims result in some form of pretrial settlement. 

Of course, most accident victims have no experience with personal injury lawsuits, insurance companies, policy limits, or fair settlement offers.

Anyone who suffered injuries due to another’s negligence can reach out to a personal injury lawyer. An experienced attorney can discuss the value of the case and go over the injured person’s options. 

Studies show that injury victims working with attorneys reach an average settlement agreement of 40% more than those without attorneys.

Victims deal with an insurance company

Personal injury settlement offers almost always come from insurance companies. 

If an insurance policyholder is responsible for a car accident, their auto insurance company is required to pay the damages. So naturally, that company will defend the case in hopes of preventing that outcome.

Because of this, insurance coverage limits and the number of insurance policies available can affect the amount of a settlement offer.

Keep in mind: An insurer only wants to settle an accident case if a settlement will save them money. If the insurance company believes the insured party wasn’t at fault, it may not submit a high settlement offer. 

This could also happen if it thinks the victim can’t prove the insured’s negligence caused their injuries. However, if an insurance company fears losing a case, it may be more willing to propose a high settlement offer.

When negotiating a settlement offer, it helps to have an attorney who’s experienced in negotiating with insurance adjusters.

How is a personal injury settlement amount determined?

When it comes to determining how much to ask for in a personal injury settlement, there are several considerations:

  1. The nature and extent of the victim’s injuries, including their long-term effects and the need for future medical treatment
  2. The certainty about which party was at fault, and whether the victim shared any responsibility 
  3. The perceived willingness of the victim to take the case to trial

Settlement offer issue No. 1: Economic and non-economic damages

Severe injuries generally result in higher settlement offers. Each state has its own laws on the damages that a victim can obtain through a personal injury lawsuit. Most often, these are divided into two categories: economic and non-economic damages. 

Economic damages can be assigned a monetary value relatively easily. The following are all common types of economic damages:

  • Compensation for all medical care already received, including medical bills, hospital expenses, and rehabilitation expenses
  • Compensation for any related future medical expenses
  • Compensation for wages lost because the victim is unable to work while recovering from their injuries
  • Compensation for a decrease in future earning capacity due to disabilities caused by the accident
  • Compensation for property damage
  • Compensation for any other out-of-pocket expenses, such as for travel to and from doctor’s appointments

Economic damages are a key part of a personal injury settlement. In almost every situation, economic damages aren’t limited by law, meaning an accident victim can recover 100% of those damages. 

However, economic damages are just one part of a settlement offer. Often, non-economic damages make up a greater portion of a settlement award. 

Non-economic damages are just as important as economic damages, but are much harder to value. Here are some types of non-economic damages. 

  • Emotional anguish
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Physical disfigurement, humiliation, or damage
  • Victim’s loss of enjoyment of activities
  • Worsening of existing injuries
  • Temporary or permanent loss of relationships

Unlike economic personal injury damages, many states limit the amount of non-economic damages a victim can obtain. These limits are referred to as “damages caps.” In a case subject to a damages cap, the insurance company likely won’t pay all the non-economic damages. This will affect the amount of the settlement offer.

Non-economic damages often make up the largest portion of a personal injury award. The amount of these damages often depends on the victim’s “story,” meaning how the injuries affected their life. 

Experienced personal injury lawyers are skilled at persuasively telling their clients’ stories, not just at trial, but also in settlement negotiations. 

Settlement offer issue No. 2: Determining who was at fault

One key factor in determining how much to ask for in a personal injury claim is clarity. Part of a personal injury trial is to establish who was at fault. Remember, an insurance company makes a settlement offer to keep the case from going to trial, where it may lose. So if a company knows it will win at trial, it has no incentive to make a good settlement offer. 

Not surprisingly, the greater the victim’s role in causing an accident, the lower the settlement offer will be. In some cases, a victim’s own fault can completely preclude their ability to recover. Whether this is the case depends on the law of the state where the claim was filed. 

Different states deal with a victim’s role in one of three ways:

  • Contributory negligence: Victims cannot be compensated if they’re even the slightest bit at fault.
  • Comparative fault: Victims partly responsible for an accident can still get compensation for their injuries. However, the total recovery amount will be reduced by the victim’s percentage of fault. For example, an auto accident victim who suffered $500,000 in damages, but was 20% at fault, would recover $400,000. 
  • Modified comparative fault: Victims can get a reduced amount for their injuries, but only if they’re less than 50-51% at fault. 

The settlement amount offered by an insurance company will depend on the laws of the state where the claim arose. Victims interested in learning their state’s laws can reach out to a personal injury attorney to find out.

Settlement offer issue No. 3: Willingness to fight

Insurance companies want to settle cases to save money. They would never settle a claim if they knew a victim was not inclined to take the case to trial. 

The more willing an accident victim is to file suit, the more it could cost the insurance company. Because of this, insurance companies often make higher settlement offers to victims who retain aggressive personal injury lawyers.

Working with an experienced personal injury law firm

Establishing an attorney-client relationship with an experienced accident lawyer can increase a victim’s chances of getting a favorable payout. One piece of advice many lawyers give their clients is never to accept the first offer. 

Often, the first settlement offer is for far less than what a case is worth. A recent study shows that the average amount of first offers was about 25% of subsequent offers. Also, victims working with an attorney got an average settlement of about $77,600, while victims with no attorney averaged just $17,600. 

Part of the reason for this is that personal injury attorneys know the laws. They know how to interpret medical records and find expert witnesses. They can prepare a case to help secure a victim the largest amount of money possible. 

Most personal injury law firms offer a free case evaluation and represent injury victims on a contingency basis. Under this arrangement, an accident victim pays nothing upfront. The law firm only gets paid if it helps the client get compensation. It’s essential for victims who’ve suffered a serious injury to know this.

A personal injury lawyer can determine how much you could collect in a settlement. They also can help you navigate the court system and collect a fair and substantial amount. If you’ve been injured in an accident or by negligence, be sure to contact an attorney as soon as possible.

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