What is a broken arm worth? How about a bulging vertebral disc that causes nerve pain down the arm for six months until surgery fixes it? What if the surgery doesn’t work?
Unfortunately, there is no concrete science on how to determine how much an injury case is worth since each case is as different as each person injured.
About 95% of cases settle before going to court, but good lawyers have a good idea of how much a jury will award for a particular injury, based on their experience. We look at other “similar” cases in the past, see what juries awarded in those, and make our best estimate based on every detail we know about the situation, the medical records, any laws that apply, the personalities and histories of the people involved, the evidence regarding whose fault the accident was, the policy limits, and so forth. If you decide to pursue your case yourself, you will need to do the same.
Keep in mind that at trial the value of a case is decided by twelve human beings with all the flaws and prejudices that human beings have, so there is a whole lot more to be taken into account than just the injury. How much the jury likes you will matter a whole lot. How much they like your witnesses will matter. And like it or not, how much they like the person who hit you will matter too. The judge has a tremendous amount of discretion, and the judge’s rulings can affect a trial. How good your doctors are at informing a jury matters a lot. What the police report says matters.
In fact, so very many things matter that it’s really not possible to figure out what a case is worth until an extensive investigation has been done. But of course, there are guidelines. Here’s one: your case is probably worth less than you think, but more than the insurance adjuster is willing to pay.
We may not know immediately what your specific case is worth, but we can educate you about the different kinds of “damages.” Damages is a vague term that helps us encompass all possible types of compensatory money an injury victim might receive from a claim.
In Oregon, there are two basic kinds of damages you can recover for a personal injury case: (1) “economic damages” and (2) “noneconomic damages.” These used to be called “special damages” and “general damages” and you will sometimes still hear lawyers and adjusters use these words. But the correct terms are “economic” and “noneconomic” damages.
“Economic damages” is the compensation you can get for any money you have lost due to the collision. Examples include:
- Money to repair your car, or the full value of the car if it was totaled
- Money to pay for medical bills
- Lost income if you were not able to work because of your injuries
- Money to pay for household services like cleaning and childcare if you were not able to do these things because of your injuries
- Money to compensate for future economic losses
“Noneconomic damages” is often called “pain and suffering.” Noneconomic damages cover such things as:
- Emotional distress
- Interference with normal activities
- Damage to a person’s reputation
- Aggravation to a previous injury
There are also “punitive damages,” which are meant purely to punish the wrongdoer. However, the State of Oregon takes 70% of any punitive damages. Then your lawyer will typically take 20%, leaving you with only 10%. This is then taxable, so you might end up with only about 10% of punitive damages. In the right case, it can make sense to try to get punitive damages, but most injured people are better off seeking only economic and noneconomic damages, which are usually not taxable in personal injury cases, under Internal Revenue Code 104(a)(2).