A car accident can take a devastating toll on your life. Crash victims often suffer physical and emotional traumas. They need medical and mental health care. They miss work and school, lose income, and struggle in their daily lives. The law generally permits car accident victims to seek compensation for their injuries through insurance claims and lawsuits against at-fault parties. Car accident attorneys represent victims in those legal actions, working hard to get them the full compensation they need to heal and pay expenses. The amount you can get for a car accident claim depends on a variety of factors. Here’s an overview of how lawyers and insurance companies calculate car accident claim value, and the role a skilled attorney can play in securing crash-related damages for you.
Elements of Car Accident Claim Value
The value of a car accident claim represents the amount you have a reasonable chance of receiving as compensation for the physical, emotional, and financial harm you suffered. We say reasonable chance, because car accident claim values aren’t fixed in stone. The recovery in a car accident claim may vary depending on:
The amount you have the legal right to claim as damages;
The strength of your claim and skill of the lawyer presenting it; and
The financial resources available to pay your claim.
The starting point for calculating the value of a car accident claim is to ask: What is the total amount you have the right to claim as damages? The answer to that question generally represents the maximum size of your car accident claim — what you would ideally receive if you had an unbeatable case and unlimited funds available to pay you. Lawyers divide car accident damages into three broad categories: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive or exemplary damages. Adding those three categories together gives you your maximum car accident claim value.
You generally have the right to claim compensation for all financial losses directly caused by a car accident. These losses typically consist of:
Past and future medical expenses for treating accident-related injuries
Costs of repairing or replacing damaged vehicles or other property
Past and future out-of-pocket expenses related to living with or adapting to injuries (such as transportation services or modifications to your living space)
Loss of earnings from missing work while healing from an injury
The value of vacation time and sick leave used while out of work
Loss of future earnings, if an injury will keep you out of work long-term
All other financial losses you would not have had, if you had not gotten hurt in a car accident
These damages tend to be tied to the severity of your injury and its impact on your life. The worse your trauma, the higher your economic costs.
You also generally have the right to claim compensation for the non-financial harm you’ve suffered because of a car accident, such as your:
Physical pain and discomfort
Emotional difficulty or mental health challenges
Inconvenience in daily life
Diminished enjoyment of activities or personal/intimate relationships
Scarring and disfigurement
These damages also tend to correlate to the severity of your injury and its impact on your life. But they don’t always match-up with the size of your economic damages. For example, a back injury might involve large expenses or financial losses, but it could cause you chronic pain that severely disrupts your ability to enjoy life. Non-economic damages can be difficult to calculate. Attorneys and insurance companies sometimes use shorthand methods to estimate their appropriate amounts. For example, they may multiply a victim’s economic damages by a factor from 1 to 5, reflecting the degree of severity of an injury, to reach a figure for non-economic damages. Or they may estimate an amount representing a victim’s daily non-economic damages, and multiply it by the number of days they expect those damages to last (up to a maximum of the victim’s life expectancy). These shorthand methods, however, aren’t always accurate or fair representations of your true losses. That’s why it’s important to have a skilled car accident on your side who’s prepared to prove your case for non-economic damages to a judge and jury, if need be.
If a court concludes that a party at fault for causing a car accident engaged in especially extreme or intentionally harmful conduct, it might award additional damages to an injured victim. These punitive or exemplary damages serve to punish the at-fault party, rather than to compensate for the victim’s losses. Not all cases qualify for this type of claim, but in those that do, punitive or exemplary damages can occasionally equal or exceed the amounts of economic and non-economic damages.
The Strength of Your Case and Skill of Your Lawyer
Adding together economic, non-economic, and punitive/exemplary damages gives you the maximum possible value of your car accident claim. But it’s not necessarily the amount you can reasonably hope to receive. One reason for this is that your claim does not spring into existence on its own. Someone — preferably an experienced car accident lawyer — needs to build it by collecting evidence, analyzing liability, and presenting arguments in your favor to insurance companies, defense lawyers, judges, and juries. In an ideal world, that claim would be so strong and convincing that you’d be virtually guaranteed to win a complete victory for the full value of your damages. And that’s the goal a lawyer will strive to achieve on your behalf. In reality, however, slam-dunk wins are difficult to come by. Insurance companies and defense lawyers try their best to poke holes in your evidence and arguments, insisting their clients should not bear responsibility for what happened, or that you don’t deserve the amount you claim as damages. As those elements of your claim get called into question, its overall value can start to decline from the maximum amount. That’s why you need an attorney with years of experience and skill to put to work for you. Through attention to detailed and determined advocacy, a seasoned car accident attorney can fortify your claim against weaknesses and counterarguments, preserving as much of its value as possible. You might not end up with a 100 percent bulletproof car accident claim, but a successful attorney can make your claim as strong as possible.
The Financial Resources Available
So far, we’ve described how to calculate the maximum value of your car accident claim, and how the strength of your claim and skill of your attorney might affect that amount. Now it’s time to look at the other side of the ledger, so to speak. No matter how strong your claim, you also have to consider whether someone can actually pay for your losses. You can’t get blood from a stone, as the saying goes. The value of even the most winning claim can ultimately depend on the financial resources available to pay it Generally speaking, the party at fault for causing a car accident through wrongful decisions or actions will have legal liability to pay the full amount of your damages. Often, that party will carry insurance to cover that liability. The party might also possess assets that can be used to pay for the harm you suffered. In order for your claim to achieve its highest possible value, the sum total of the at-fault party’s insurance and assets must meet or exceed your claim amount. In other words, if the maximum value of your car accident claim is $500,000, but the at-fault party has no assets and carries only $150,000 in liability insurance, your claim’s may only recover $150,000—far less than your total damages. Conversely, if the maximum value of your claim is $500,000, and the at-fault party carries $1 million in liability insurance and has large bank accounts to boot, your claim value might stay at $500,000. In that scenario, you can realistically hope to receive every penny of your total damages. Factors other than the size of the at-fault party’s insurance policy can also affect the financial resources available to pay your claim. For example, if multiple individuals sustained injuries in a car accident, they all may seek damages from the same at-fault party, effectively splitting the available money among them. On the other hand, if more than one party caused an accident, you may pursue compensation from all of them and any applicable insurance policies they carry. A skilled car accident attorney works to maximize compensation by exploring every possible source of payment of your damages. The more sources the attorney finds, the better your chances of achieving the highest possible recovery.
Claim Value versus Money in Your Pocket
So, to review, you can calculate your car accident claim by figuring out the maximum amount your damages, and then adjusting that amount by the strength of your case and the financial resources available to pay you. The number you come up with, however, will not necessarily be the amount that ends up in your pocket when all is said and done. That’s because some of the money a lawyer recovers for you will pay your own insurers and others who covered your costs to date, and to the attorney as a fee. You get any remaining money after those deductions.
Insurance Subrogation Claims
It’s common for a car accident victim’s own insurance to cover some costs in the aftermath of a crash. For example, your own health insurance (if you carry it) may pay for your initial medical care. Likewise, your own auto insurance may cover the cost of repairing or replacing your damaged vehicle. Under the terms of your insurance policies, those insurance companies may have the right to be reimbursed for the money they spent. This is known as a right of subrogation, and it gives your insurers a claim against any money you receive from the at-fault party and its insurer. Typically, your attorney will deduct the amount of those subrogation claims and pay it directly to your insurers, before sending you the remainder.
Unpaid Medical Expenses
Your insurance may not cover all of your medical expenses after a car accident. It’s common for car accident victims to amass significant medical debt while waiting for the resolution of their car accident claim. Medical providers understand this dilemma, and will often agree to forbear from collecting your medical debt until you receive money from the at-fault party and its insurer. But in exchange for their forbearance, it’s common for them to ask you to agree that your attorney will send them full payment directly, before any money is disbursed to you.
Attorney Contingent Fees and Costs
Most car accident attorneys work for their clients on a contingent fee basis. This means that they do not charge upfront fees or bill their clients by the hour. Instead, they agree to work in exchange for a percentage of any money they recover on their clients’ behalf. Attorneys work on contingency because they recognize that car accident victims rarely have the financial resources to pay legal fees and costs out of their own pocket. By agreeing to work for a cut of the proceeds of a claim, they shoulder most of the financial risk of a loss. But if they win for you, they collect their fees and costs before disbursing the rest of the money to you.
Contact a Skilled Car Accident Attorney Today
If you suffered injuries in a car accident, you may have valuable rights to receive compensation. Contact a Las Vegas personal injury law firm's car accident attorney in your area today for a free consultation about the potential value of your claim.
Edward M. Bernstein, Esq. is the owner and founding partner of Edward M. Bernstein & Associates, and one of the most recognizable figures in Nevada. Ed is one of state’s premier personal injury attorneys and has hosted The Ed Bernstein Show for over 31 years. He has served the Las Vegas community for decades with dozens of community appointments and terms of service. In the year 2000, he was Nevada’s Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.
Ed received his B.A. from Long Island University in 1971 and his J.D. from Widener University in 1975. Since then, Ed’s professional accolades include numerous publications, honors and awards, court appointments, and has been named one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.