My office’s primary area experience is representing clients whom have been injured in automobile accidents. One of the things I do during an initial free consultation with a client is explain the different components of a personal injury action stemming from an automobile accident. Primarily, an automobile accident case comes down to two things: Liability and Damages. Below is a brief description of what is frequently discussed during a consultation.
Before I address “damages,” I’ll explain a little about liability, because regardless of how large the damages are, unless you have a case for proving liability you will have no valid claim. When lawyers talk about “liability,” we are really talking about “fault.” In other words, who was at fault in causing the accident? The legal concept of “negligence” comes in to play here, which involves proof that the other motorist breached a legal duty to you (the duty to pay attention, keep a proper distance, travel at a safe speed, etc.). It has been my experience that the vast majority of the time, when I meet with a new client, this is the easiest part of an automobile accident case. In most instances, the insurance company of the other motorist will not dispute that it’s insured was at fault, especially if it is the typical “rear-ender.” Therefore, in most cases you do NOT need a lawyer to prove fault if you were not injured in the accident.
However, there are certainly other times when fault is disputed, and the other motorist’s insurance company may take the position that your actions caused the accident (in whole or in part). For example, we see this arise when both parties say they had the green light, but there are no witnesses. Recently, by obtaining video from a red light camera, I was able to prove that my client had the green light and was NOT at fault. If the insurance adjuster is wrongly claiming you are to blame, or partly to blame, then you will definitely want to talk with an attorney.
Now, let us assume that you have a strong case of proving “fault” or “liability” on the part of the other motorist. While at this point you would clearly have a strong case for recovering property damage to your car, this does not necessarily mean you have a valid injury case. You still must prove that as a result of the other person’s negligence you have suffered losses (more commonly referred to as a claimant’s “damages”).
Assuming that the other motorist caused the accident, the following addresses the most common types of losses an injured motorist will seek to recover in a bodily injury claim:
- Past Lost Wages: If you have lost wages as a result of the motor vehicle accident at the time your case is resolved, then you are entitled to be compensated for those losses.
- Future Impairment of Earning Capacity: If you are no longer able to work, not able to work as much, or if you are in a lower paying job due to your injuries, you are entitled to claim damages for future wage loss. This may be true even if you are earning the same income after the accident, but there is reason to believe (and we can prove) that you will not be able to work as long in your career due to residual medical problems that are progressive, and that will likely affect future earnings.
- Past Medical Expenses: At the time of a settlement or verdict, you will likely (but not always) have outstanding medical expenses. This area can be most complex than it sounds, and requires a good legal knowledge of how such losses should be computed. For example, medical expenses paid by your own auto insurance company under Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage do not amount to “out of pocket” medicals, because you do not have to pay them back from your injury settlement. On the other hand, your private health insurer and other entities that paid for treatment frequently do have a right to be reimbursed.This is another example of when having an experienced attorney can be of utmost importance. My staff and I keep close track of all medical expenses by frequently updating a spreadsheet known as a “Medical Matrix.” This matrix keeps track of each medical provider, how much it has been paid, who paid it, and any outstanding balance. By keeping these expenses current, we assure ourselves that we are not overlooking medical debts that must be satisfied at the time of settlement.
- Future Medical Expenses: It is IMPORTANT to know that an old cliché applies in an injury claim: YOU GET ONE BITE AT THE APPLE! Of course, by this I mean that once you resolve your claim, in almost every instance you cannot reopen the case later for any reason. Therefore, it is essential to recover sufficient money to pay not only for your past damages, but future damages as well. If your doctor has rendered an opinion that you will require future care, than this becomes a part of your claim, and must be factored into any analysis of a claim’s fair value. Future care can involve many types of treatment. Such future care could involve the likelihood that you will require future surgery, or that you may just need periodic massages, injections, or medication therapy. An experienced attorney will make certain that all of these things are factored into negotiations with the insurance company.
- Past and Future Pain, Suffering, and Mental Anguish: If you have been permanently injured as a result of the automobile accident, then you are entitled to fair compensation for past, present, and future pain and suffering. Pain and suffering involves quality of life issues. For example, if prior to your injuries you enjoyed spending time in the garden (or bowling, golfing, etc.), and now such activities create painful flare-ups, then your quality of life is affected. If you can no longer do previous activities at all, then again your quality of life has been negatively altered and affected.Additionally, if you are depressed or anxious due to your injuries, or relations with your significant other are impacted, then that can also affect your quality of life. You are entitled to fair compensation for these damages, and my firm and I are very aggressive at seeking full compensation for our clients whom have had their quality of life affected due to an automobile accident.
Not to be overlooked is that your spouse may have his or her own claim for loss of support and services (a consortium claim). Without significant injuries to the injured plaintiff, juries are commonly reluctant to award large amounts of money to a spouse. Nonetheless, if your spouse has been negatively affected and suffered losses due to your injuries, then he or she has a claim for “consortium damages.” Such losses could include a spouse who may now have to absorb a heavier workload in order to do those things around the house that you used to do before your injuries, as well as the impact to your personal lives.
Summary of Damages
I have summarized the most common types of damages seen in a Florida personal injury claim. There may be other types of damages due to unique circumstances involved in your claim, so this section is not intended to provide you with legal advice. You should call us for a FREE CONSULTATION so that I can discuss the specific facts of your case with you. Feel free to call me at 727-286-2305, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply fill out the form below.