It’s never a good thing when you need to seek a personal injury settlement. By definition, it means you’ve been injured in some way, whether that’s injury to your person or injury by the loss of someone close to you. However, we are fortunate to have a legal system that makes legally and safely seeking personal injury settlements as straightforward as it can reasonably be.
But we regularly find our prospective clients asking us a particular question as they start their personal injury settlement journey: How much money should I be asking for? What’s a fair amount to be seeking as a personal injury settlement that will adequately address my damages and financial need, while not making it look like I’m just trying to get rich quick?
In this blog, we’ll look at the different types of damages typically included in a personal injury settlement and how much you should typically be seeking in your claim.
Important caveat: If you’re at all unsure about how to estimate your personal injury settlement amount, don’t just hazard a guess. There are many factors that go into assessing the amount you should be seeking, and you may not know about many or even most of the categories. For that reason, we highly recommend speaking to an experienced personal injury lawyer before ever putting expected damages down in writing.
That said, let’s look at common wisdom about estimating claims.
The Average Personal Injury Settlement Is Between $3,000 and $75,000
Conventional wisdom in the world of personal injury law is that when you seek compensation for damages in a personal injury lawsuit, you can expect to receive (if successful) anywhere from $3,000 to $75,000. Damages below $3,000 typically aren’t seen in personal injury lawsuits; they’d be more suited for small-claims court.
On the other hand, while it is certainly possible to receive claims above $75,000, and you may have heard about personal injury settlements in the range of millions or tens of millions of dollars, these are extremely uncommon. What’s more, these are almost always not economic damages but rather punitive fines. That is, these are not necessarily reflective of the economic and personal hardship you yourself suffered but rather levied in order to punish the offending party for wrongdoing.
For instance, let’s say you lived downstream from a power plant that was dumping chemical waste in your water supply, leading to health issues for you and your neighbors. A judge or jury might award you money to address your health care costs, but if it found that the power plant company was acting willfully and recklessly, it might impose millions of dollars more in punitive fines as an extra penalty.
Still, punitive fines aren’t something that you can control—and the vast majority of personal injury lawsuits are settled before a trial ever starts—so you shouldn’t consider them as part of the estimate of damages you’re seeking.
Intangible vs. Tangible Damages
In any estimate of personal injury damages, there are always two types of injury to consider. One is much easier to estimate and quantify than the other.
Tangible, or “hard” damages—sometimes called “special” damages—can include things like:
- Medical expenses. How much did you spend out of pocket on specialists, medicine, physical therapy, hospital stays, and so on as a result of this injury?
- Lost wages. How much money would you have made during the time period you were out of work as a result of the injury you suffered?
- Other bills. If you were in a car accident, how much did it cost you to repair your car—or was it totaled and you had to buy a new one? Did you have to rebuild part of your house when an incorrectly felled tree damaged it? How much did you spend on hotel fees while living elsewhere waiting for your home to be livable again?
These are just some of the most common types of tangible or hard damages that you can expect to encounter as part of a legal settlement. These, in the end, are easy to quantify—you just need to add up all your bills. (Incidentally, this is why it is critical to keep records of all of these expenses so that you can prove you really did pay this money and that it was immediately relevant to the injury.)
However, there are other damages, as well. Intangible damages, sometimes called “soft” damages or “general” damages, include things like pain suffered, emotional damage, loss of enjoyment, and so on.
These damages can be much more difficult to quantify than hard damages can, but they’re often the bulk of a settlement amount, and for good reason. After all, you can quantify being out of work for three months recovering, but how much money does it cost to have an aching body for the rest of your life due to the accident? If you had a car accident, what price can you put on anxiety every time you drive? Or if you had a love of skiing but the injury to your legs means you may never ski again, how much is “may never again do a beloved activity” worth?
For these reasons, you can see why intangible damages are both much harder to calculate than hard damages and often the more sizable part of any personal injury settlement estimate.
While it’s impossible to just put a price tag on things like loss of enjoyment or physical and emotional pain, one handy rule of thumb is this: take whatever your hard damages total is and multiply it by four or five to get the amount you should estimate for your intangible damages.
The reality is that you likely won’t get the full amount you seek in a trial, mainly because settlements are negotiated out of court to prevent it from going to trial in the first place. You can also only expect to recoup, in general, what the other party has in assets or insurance. It may not be possible for the person or entity you’re suing to pay the amount you ask.
However, working with an experienced personal injury attorney, like those at Warren Allen LLP, will increase your odds of getting the settlement you deserve. We know how to handle negotiations and estimations to maximize your settlement. If you’re looking to file a personal injury settlement, contact the experts at Warren Allen today.