If I’m in an Accident, What Do I Get Compensation For?
The fundamental purpose of personal injury law is to put accident victims in the same position they were in before the accident, or to “make them whole.”
Although deterrence and punishment is primarily the domain of criminal courts, the civil courts that handle automobile accident cases can punish at-fault drivers who behave egregiously by awarding so-called punitive damages to the plaintiff.
However, most accident victims never get punitive damages because most accidents are not caused by behavior warranting punishment. Further, most automobile accident cases never go to trial. Instead, these cases usually settle out of court, either in the insurance claim process or in a settlement negotiation.
Therefore, in most cases accident victims can expect to receive a settlement award for compensatory damages, which will account for both general damages and special damages.
Compensation for Pain, Suffering, and Loss of Quality of Life
General damages compensate victims for intangible injuries such as pain, suffering, and loss of quality of life after an accident. It can be difficult to put a precise dollar amount on these injuries. If you ask for too much, you can deter the at-fault party from settling, and if you ask for too little, the at-fault party will settle immediately but you will not be getting the compensation you deserve.
Although a general damages amount will always be an estimate, you can increase your chances of achieving a good settlement if you provide credible evidence to substantiate your estimate. For example, you could use your pain medication prescription as evidence of your severe pain. If you face a reduced quality of life because of debilitating accident, you can take a video of your daily struggles.
Compensation for Medical Expenses
Special damages compensate the victim for concrete losses that can be easily documented, such as lost wages and medical expenses.
Proving past medical expenses is relatively straightforward: you can just point to your medical bills. But you’ll also need to demonstrate that you actually received the treatment, and that the treatment was necessary to address an ailment that was caused by the accident.
You can also ask for compensation for future medical expenses, which can be more challenging to substantiate. You’ll need to have your medical provider give you an estimate of what treatments will be necessary in the long run, and how much they’re expected to cost.
The at-fault party or the insurance company will often challenge the findings of your own doctor, and ask that you see an “independent” medical expert of their choosing. The independent consultation will always be more conservative in terms of treatment needs, but it is sometimes a necessary step in the insurance claim process.
Compensation for Lost Wages
If you were unable to work in the aftermath of the accident, you can recover compensation for your lost wages. All you need to do is document the amount of time you were away from work, calculate how much money you would have made during that period, and demonstrate that you missed work because of the accident.
If your injuries will interfere with your ability to work in the future, then you can ask for compensation for your lost future wages. This amount can be very large depending on the circumstances, but you’ll need to provide a credible explanation of how your injuries will affect your future earning ability.