Car accidents are quite common and result in thousands of claims against insurance companies yearly. With a long history of responding to claims, insurance companies have compiled significant data based on these accidents and payouts. This information helps them formulate standards for settling future cases. Ultimately, cases are settled based on the unique facts, but there is some predictability in the information that insurance companies consider in valuing your claim.
Insurance companies have created a formula that assesses your damages, and then multiply that loss by a certain number they have identified based on their statistics. This means that your actual financial losses might represent only a portion of what the insurance company ultimately may determine is the value of your claim. That’s good for you.
What Are Some Common Damages Claimed in Automobile Accident Cases?
The types of damages in cases involving car accidents are pretty standard. There are two categories:
Special damages. Special damages are costs that are incurred as a result of the injury that can be quantified. These damages usually include:
- Actual medical costs if you were injured
- Lost wages if you had to stay away from work because of your injuries
- Loss of future income if your injuries were so severe that you won’t be able to work again
- Anticipated future medical expenses
Special damages need to be supported by billing records, tax returns, proof of income, and receipts. This is usually not hard to compile since you will receive bills from your providers.
Special damages may seem relatively easy to prove since they are based on actual costs and supported by records. However, insurance companies will challenge the claimed costs at every opportunity. They will have their medical expert claim that your injuries weren’t that bad and you didn’t need all the medical treatment you received. This is particularly true of chiropractic services – insurance companies are well known for denying those claims.
General damages. General damages are compensation for non-economic losses, including pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and emotional distress.
General damages are, by nature, more difficult to prove. Quantifying the dollar value for things like emotional distress, humiliation, disfigurement, or pain and suffering is difficult. Keep in mind that pain and suffering damages must be supported by evidence. Medical records or a doctor’s note may be sufficient in minor cases.
However, if it involves more serious injuries, you might need to provide testimony from witnesses who observed your suffering and other supporting documents, such as a police report and photos of your injuries. Pharmacy bills showing you are taking strong pain medication can also be good evidence. If you have no evidence of pain and suffering, the insurance company will hesitate to award you for them. However, general damages can comprise a significant portion of the total damages award and should not be ignored.
How Do You Prove Medical Expenses After an Automobile Accident?
You can obtain damages for specific medical bills relating to reasonably incurred costs for treatment in connection with a defendant’s negligence in an automobile accident. To prove your legitimate medical expenses, you should present copies of your medical bills.
A qualified expert witness can testify about the reasonableness of the cost of the medical expenses and that the medical treatment stemmed from the automobile accident.
What Are Insurance Multipliers?
How will the insurance company decide how much to pay you for your general damages?
An insurance company will use a multiplier to put a dollar value on your general damages in a personal injury case, and it works like this:
The insurance company will have calculated your specific losses based on your supporting documentation. For example, your medical costs may amount to $25,000. The insurer will now multiply that number by a “multiplier,” (that is, a certain numerical factor, usually between 1.5 and 5.) The function of the multiplier is to judge the degree of seriousness of your pain and suffering and any other general damages you have suffered.
How will the insurance company decide what the multiplier should be? This is very important since the multiplier they select will greatly impact your total award. In the example above, if the multiplier is 2, you will receive $75,000. That figure is arrived at by adding together your specific damages ($25,000) and 2 x $25,000 ($50,000) for your general damages.
If the insurance company can be persuaded that the correct multiplier should be 4, your total award will be $25,000 (specific damages ) plus 4 x $25,000 (general damages) for a total of $125,000.
The decision about what multiplier to use is determined based on the facts of your particular case. The most common factors used by the insurance company are:
- How much are your total medical bills?
- Was the medical treatment necessary?
- Did you seek treatment for a condition pre-existing to the accident?
- Did you seek long-term treatment for your injuries?
- Did your actions play any part in the accident? Is it obvious that it was the other driver’s fault?
- How serious were your injuries? Did you suffer a fracture, wound, tear, or displacement that required surgical treatment or that cannot be successfully repaired?
- Did you suffer a permanent disability?
- Do you have doctor’s reports verifying your pain and suffering?
- What is going to be your period of recovery?
- Can full recovery be realized? How long will it take – longer than 6 months?
For example, if you sustained grave injuries, the multiplier should be close to 5.
Let’s say you were injured in a car accident but did not see your doctor until the following week, or you only had one or two doctor’s visits due to the accident. You did not lose any time from work, and your total medical bills were less than $3,000. When the insurance company chooses a multiplier for that case, it will probably be no higher than 2 because your injuries were minor, and so the amount of pain and suffering you went through is not likely to be very high.
If the circumstances surrounding the accident show instead that you were immediately treated at a hospital, broke ribs and your collar bone, and incurred medical bills of $10,000, the insurance company may decide to use a multiplier of 4. Broken ribs hurt a great deal, and there is little treatment that your doctor can give you to reduce the pain.
The important thing to remember is that each case’s unique facts will dictate how the insurance company determines what it thinks is the final total value of your claim.
Should I Meet With an Attorney If I Was in an Automobile Accident?
Dealing with an insurance company following an accident can be quite stressful. While it is possible to navigate the situation on your own, there might be circumstances that complicate the situation.
Consulting with a local car accident attorney may help you understand your rights and what you are entitled to if you have been injured in an automobile accident. The lawyer will help you compile evidence of your injuries and their monetary costs. They will also ensure the insurance company uses a fair multiplier when calculating your general damages.
Taking a case to trial can be very costly for all parties involved, and presenting your case to a jury might lead to an unpredictable award of damages. A pretrial settlement can be a good strategy to avoid the uncertainties of trial. Negotiating with the insurance company is one of the most important services your attorney can provide. Based on years of experience, your lawyer will know how much your case is worth and will work very hard to ensure you get all you deserve.