Damage Awards in Personal Injury Cases Depend on Nature and Extent of Injuries

When an injured person brings a personal injury claim against an at-fault person or company, the injured person must first prove that the at-fault person caused the injury. Once an injured person proves that the at-fault person or company is liable—or when the at-fault person or company admits liability—the injured person can make a claim for damages.

The amount of damages to which an injured person may be entitled is highly dependent on the nature and severity of one’s injuries and upon the unique facts and circumstances of a case.

A “Winning” Case Is Partly A Matter of Expectations

Of course, any party to a claim or a lawsuit wants to win, but what does it mean to win? Personal injury claims involve two phases: liability and damages. If an injured person cannot prove that another person was liable for one’s injuries, the injured person cannot be awarded damages.

It is necessary, then, in any personal injury case, to “win” the issue of liability. Winning liability means proving the other party was at fault for the incident that caused the claimant’s injuries.

“Winning” the damages portion of a personal injury case is more nebulous. A person who suffered a scratch on the arm in a crash that healed after two days may demand $2 million in damages but may only be awarded $100. That person may have “won” the case, but the victory feels hollow because the damage award fell short of the person’s expectations.

It is important to consider the unique facts and circumstances of a case and the nature and severity of the injuries suffered by a claimant when projecting a case’s value. In the end, if a settlement cannot be brokered, a case is worth whatever twelve jurors agree it is worth.

The Most Common Outcome in Personal Injury Lawsuits is Settlement

Leaving damage awards in the hands of a jury involves tremendous risk to plaintiffs and defendants. “Taking a case to trial” may sound like an exciting adventure—and it is—but it also is an expensive venture, even in a case in which a plaintiff’s attorney is working on a “contingency” basis (i.e. “We don’t get paid unless you get paid).

Court reporters charge money to transcribe deposition testimony taken of witnesses; copy companies charge money to prepare exhibits for presentation to a jury; and expert witnesses—medical professionals who have treated an injured plaintiff or who can render testimony regarding a plaintiff’s injuries and treatment—often charge thousands of dollars to testify. These costs are passed on to a plaintiff, and many times, a plaintiff must pay them up front.

In addition, before cases go to trial, a defendant may file an “offer of judgment.” The offer of money to settle a case may not be suitable to a plaintiff, and the plaintiff may reject it and ask the jury to award more money. If the jury does not award the plaintiff more than the offer of judgment, by rule the plaintiff may be ordered to pay the costs incurred by the defendant in the action—including the defendant’s expert witness and deposition fees. In this fashion, a plaintiff could theoretically “win” a case and lose money in the process.

Jury trials are risky for defendants, too. A jury may be motivated by a defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct to award damages far in excess of a plaintiff’s demand. It is impossible to accurately predict what a jury will do in a case, because the parties cannot even determine the identity of the potential jurors until shortly before trial.

Hundreds of books have been written on the subject of juries and how to best persuade them. No one can get inside the brain of another human being and know what the person is thinking. In the end, the jury trial is a risky venture for both sides in a case, and both sides engage in serious settlement negotiations. Most cases settle in the face of trial risks.

Common Factors Impact the Settlement Amount

In cases in which liability is established or uncontested, damage awards depend first on the nature and extent of a person’s injuries. If a person was severely injured in a crash, suffered broken bones, underwent surgery, and spent two years recovering, that person’s damages are going to be much higher than a person who suffered back pain and visited a chiropractor twice.

Photos tell a thousand words. Crash photos showing minimal or no damage to a person’s vehicle may result in low settlement offers. Photos showing a hard crash—shattered windows, airbag deployment, twisted metal—may assist an injured person in making a demand for substantial damages.

Contact a Charlotte Attorney to Secure the Most Compensation in Your Case

If you believe you have a personal injury claim, you should speak to an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today to schedule a free consultation with one of our professionals. Feel free to call us at 704-370-2828, or fill out our contact form online. Arnold & Smith, PLLC handles personal injury cases across the entire State of North Carolina.

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