How much is my injury case worth?
We receive this question from almost every client. It is fair question. Regardless of how you are injured, in the end our civil judicial system is built around money damages. The real question the client wants to ask: How much am I going to put in my pocket? The short answer is it depends. This article discusses why it depends.
Regardless of how you were injured a settlement offer or jury award is going to pay you a total amount. This is the amount that represents the full and fair compensation for your injury. Before you can determine what you will put in your pocket after an injury, you need to know what that total amount will be.
Calculating the Total
Adjusters, lawyer, judges, and ultimately juries are bound to calculate damages for personal injuries through jury instructions. In Illinois, the jury instructions are set forth in Section 30 of the Illinois Supreme Court Pattern Jury Instructions. This section of the jury instructions is entitled "Damages". Here is link to a pdf of the entire section.
Categories of Damages
As you can see, there are many elements of damages for personal injuries. In many personal injury cases, you will not use all elements of damage. Assuming the damage is not permanent- meaning the person recovers from his or her injuries after some time, you may only have pain and suffering and medical bills. However, some people who are injured never get better. Other times, the injured person requires care for some time or the rest of his or her life. This care is in addition to medical bills. These individual damages are added to create a total damage award. The following list are approved damage elements in Illinois. These are pulled from the Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions.
- Disfigurement 30.04
- Disability 30.04.01
- Loss of a normal life 30.04.02
- Increased risk of harm 30.04.03
- Shortened life expectancy 30.04.05
- Pain and suffering (past and future) 30.05
- Emotional distress (past and future) 30.05.01
- Medical expenses (past and future) 30.06
- Loss wages (past and future) 30.07
- Care taking expenses (past and future) 30.09
- Personal property damage 30.10
These eleven categories of damages must be supported by some evidence in order for you to recover them. There are other types of damages, including punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages meant to punish the other side. Click here to learn about punitive damages. These eleven damages categories are meant to compensate you. Without an expert or a record showing you have or will incur these eleven categories of damages, the decider of the case does not get to consider that particular element of damages. In a hypothetical, you could be in Madison County, Illinois and injured by a tractor trailer on the interstate. The commercial vehicle hitting your case can cause you tremendous damage and all categories of damages will be necessary. In a routine surgery gone wrong, you may only have additional medical bills and no other elements of damage.
Each Category Receives a Number
Under each category, you will receive a number starting with zero. Even if you provide some evidence that you incurred a category of damage, the decider of the case or the person making you a settlement offer could elect to disregard it. This is sometimes the case with insurance adjusters who don't believe the injuries you received were caused by the negligence of the insured. Once the category receives a number, the next category is determined. After each category receives its number, the total is added. That total is your settlement, award, or verdict. It is very important to not overlook any category of damage. If you missed work and forget to include that damage, you lose out. If you fail to get all the medical bills, you may lose out. Don't lose out. Go through each item. Don't forget those prescriptions! Prescription costs add up.
You Don't Get the Total (unfortunately)
It sounds horrible to say, but the total is rarely the amount you put in your pocket. The reason? Medical bills require repayment, case expenses must be recovered, and (as much as we hate to admit) your attorney will receive his portion. The medical bills can be handled in many ways that allow you to pay less than the total amount of the bill.
Medical Bills and Future Medical
The largest case expense will likely be a medical bills. Your health care provider has a right to bill you directly, submit the bills to your health insurance, or contact your lawyer and place a "lien" on your file. A lien is essentially a document that requires your lawyer or the at fault insurance company to pay back the medical provider out of the proceeds. Think of it this way, you are recovering money for a medical bill that you may not have paid. It is only fair that the bill be paid.
Lawyers at our firm will work to get your medical provider to take less than the full amount of the bill. That puts more money in your pocket. This negotiation is sometimes called "reducing the lien". Reducing the lien allows the lawyer to force the medical provider to take less money on the bill through a doctrine called, "The Common Fund Doctrine." Without going into too much detail, The Common Fund Doctrine is a legal principle which says, medical provider you must reduce your lien to account for the fact that this person has had to pay costs and a lawyer to recover money for you. The amount of the lien reduction depends on the lawyer's negotiating skills but should usually start at one-third. Thus, the bill is for $1,000. The lawyer should get the lien reduced to $700. There are many exceptions to this general principle.
In addition, there are future medical bills. These are usually an issue if the person has public health insurance, like medicaid or medicare. There are laws that require the future medical benefits that are going to be paid by these public health insurers be paid in advance of the treatment. More negotiations to reduce those future medical costs.
You Keep the Remainder
Even though you don't get to keep the total settlement, award, or jury verdict, you can still receive a sizable amount in your pocket. This depends on whether your lawyer can negotiate down those medical bills and other liens in such a way to put the most in your pocket. After all, that is why your lawyer is getting a portion of this fee.