Recoverable Damages

Each jurisdiction determines the available damages a party may recover in an action resulting from an automobile accident. The policy behind compensation for injures is to place the injured party back into the same position he would have been in if the accident had not occurred. This concept is referred to as making a person whole.

In attempting to make a person whole, the law recognizes that damages from an automobile accident can come in many forms; lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, scarring, disfigurement, loss of earning capacity and a spouse's loss of consortium, or loss of the services, society and intimacy of the relationship. Most jurisdictions attempt to make a victim of an automobile accident whole by allowing the recovery of these types of damages.

There are exceptions to this rule in states that have passed "no fault" insurance provisions or allow for "economic only" recovery. In this situation, a person may be limited to recovering only for actual lost wages, medical expenses and property damage. Pain and suffering may be limited or unrecoverable in certain states.

Some states even allow a party to recover for punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages designed to punish an individual or company in an effort to deter future bad conduct. For instance, punitive damages may apply when a drunk driver injures a person. A party generally must meet a higher proof threshold to recover punitive damages.In states that do not allow punitive damages, you must prove the out of pocket expenses and extent of your pain and suffering to make a recovery.

No Pay, No Play

Some states have recently enacted laws that prohibit an injured party from recovering damages if they do not have the legally required insurance on their own vehicle. This applies even if the other person was at fault in the accident.

Such laws, referred to as "no pay, no play" state that if you do not have insurance on your own vehicle in the amount required by law, then you are precluded from recovering your own damages from the other insurance company in an amount equal to the required coverage. For instance, if your state requires that you carry a minimum of $10,000 in liability coverage and you have not purchased that coverage on your vehicle, you waive the first $10,000 worth of damages from the other driver's insurance company.

In terms of figuring out what a particular injury or case is worth, attorneys, courts and insurance companies utilize various methods. Most courts and attorneys will look at prior case law to determine what judges and juries have awarded in the past for similar injuries. If an award or settlement is within the "range" of prior awards or settlements, then it is considered reasonable.

Some insurance companies set formulas for determining what to pay for pain and suffering damages. For instance, some adjusters will compensate victims at a rate of $1,000 per month of active treatment with a health care provider. Others will compensate victims at a rate equal to 2-3 times the value of the special damages, like medical expenses. (i.e. medical expenses of $2,000 may provide an offer of $4,000 to settle the case).

If you have suffered injuries in an automobile accident and need guidance on the damages available in your jurisdiction, fill out a free case review form and one of our experienced attorneys will contact you with an answer.