If you’ve been injured due to negligence, and you’ve established the at-fault party’s liability, you probably have a strong claim. But having a strong claim doesn’t guarantee you’ll walk away with thousands of dollars in settlement money. It just doesn’t happen that way.
Over the last 20 years or so, insurance companies have slowly but surely been settling injury claims for less and less money. In the decades up through the 1990s, insurance companies often settled soft-tissue injury claims for three times the amount of a claimant’s actual costs (known as their “special damages”, or “specials”).
Today, insurance companies have policies and procedures in place to restrict the amount they have to pay out. A claim that might have settled for three times the amount of specials in the mid-1980s might settle for only half of that amount today.
Personal Injury “Damages”
To understand why different injuries result in different compensation, you must understand what damages actually are. Damages are the tangible and intangible losses a person sustains as a result of an injury. They can include:
- Costs of past, present, and future medical treatment
- Repair or replacement of damaged property
- Lost wages, bonuses, and vacation days
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress and mental anguish
Realistic Assessment of Your Case
To recover the highest compensation possible, you must be realistic about your claim and its settlement potential. This doesn’t mean settling your claim for less than it’s worth. It means avoiding the pitfalls of thinking your claim is worth substantially more than it actually is, or mistakenly undervaluing your claim.
Don’t waste time or effort trying to convince the insurance adjuster that your soft-tissue claim is worth five times your specials, when realistically it’s only worth half as much. You’re better off knowing how to stand firm when the adjuster tries to offer less than your case is really worth.
No two injury events are alike. The injuries sustained by one person in a rear-end car accident may be entirely different from those sustained by another person in a similar accident. Don’t let the adjuster convince you her company settles all similar injury claims for the same amount. Communicate your unique damages clearly and firmly.
Unique Injuries Result in Unique Damages
It’s impossible to automatically assign a settlement value to a claim. Your injuries are unique, and you must prove you deserve the amount you’re demanding. If your damages are well-supported by medical records and other evidence, you should be able to get a higher offer than a claim without solid documentation.
But the adjuster won’t give an inch without a fight. The key is being informed enough to stand out from other claimants who don’t understand the correlation between injuries, documentation, and total damages.
The type and severity of your injury will always directly affect the value of your claim. The worse your injuries, the higher the settlement. In theory, that seems obvious. But in reality, there’s much more that goes into determining your settlement amount.
Personal injuries are categorized into two main groups: soft tissue injuries and hard injuries.
- Soft tissue injuries include injuries to the muscles, tendons, or ligaments. These usually result in pain and discomfort accompanied by swelling and bruising. Soft tissue injuries can also include abrasions and contusions, including herniated or protruding disks.
The pain and suffering due to soft tissue injuries can vary from mild discomfort from a twisted ankle, to extreme pain from bulging vertebrae. The personal injury settlement amount can vary accordingly. The more evidence of medical treatment you have, the higher the settlement will likely be.
- Hard injuries are more serious. They can range from broken bones to permanent brain damage. Facial scarring, organ damage, diseases caused by toxic chemicals, and other life-altering changes are also considered hard injuries.
Injuries like serious cuts and abrasions resulting in scarring can cross from soft to hard. Hard injuries almost always settle for substantially higher amounts than soft tissue injuries.
There are four issues that directly affect the value of your claim. Remember, each claim is unique. Injuries sustained in seemingly similar injury events can result in greatly varying damages. The issues which distinguish one injury claim from another are:
- Is the injury a soft tissue or a hard injury?
- How clear is liability?
- How much are the specials (medical costs, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages)?
- What other damages exist that can increase the pain and suffering multiplier?
Soft tissue injury negotiations are always controversial. The adjuster will not empathize with the pain and suffering you endured. To distinguish your claim, you must successfully deal with each of the four qualifying issues. The more documentation you can show the adjuster, the better you will do.
Hard injury negotiations can also be complicated and drawn out. Because the damages in hard injury claims are normally much higher than those in soft tissue claims, adjusters require convincing medical proof of the type and severity of the injuries. Only experienced attorneys should be handling these types of claims.
When to Hire an Attorney
Regardless of the severity of your injuries, you should always consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. Most offer free initial consultations. Injuries such as head trauma, toxic poisoning, facial scarring, and medical malpractice are very serious – not only in their type and severity, but in the way they’re negotiated by insurance companies.
When it comes to hard injury cases, especially malpractice and corporate cases, you’ll be up against overwhelming odds. One mistake and your entire case can be dismissed by a judge. These types of cases can cost thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in pre-trial discovery expenses, expert witnesses, and the like.
Because there’s so much to lose in a serious injury case, representing yourself is NOT in your best interest. Your chances of receiving the settlement you deserve will greatly increase with legal representation. Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is ask for help.
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