Personal Injury Cases: Picking Up The Pieces

By Joyce Novotny-Prettiman, Esq.

As attorneys for injured people, we talk to clients every day about the potential value of their personal injury claims. On the opposite side of the case, the insurance company is making its own determination of the value of the claim in defense of the person(s) at fault. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement, the ultimate decision of the value of the claim is made by a jury. The civil law provides only one way to compensate people who are injured because of another person's carelessness: money damages. Many factors are taken into consideration when clients, attorneys and juries review these cases. There are two types of damages in personal injury cases: economic and noneconomic losses.

Economic damages are things that can be assigned a "price tag," such as lost wages, medical bills or out-of-pocket expenses. When someone is injured, they may not be able to return to work while receiving medical treatment. Some people suffer injuries that are serious enough to cause the complete loss of a job or require a career change. This type of economic damage is known as a loss of earning capacity. In the most devastating cases, when an accident causes fatal injuries, a family may suffer many economic damages, including loss of support and the loss of the services that the victim provided to a spouse and children left behind.

There may also be medical bills that go beyond those covered by insurance. Auto insurance is the primary source of coverage for medical expenses. Pennsylvania law requires a minimum of $5,000 medical coverage. The next source is private health insurance. However, private health insurance carriers may require repayment of medical bills associated with the accident. In any event, most people must pay deductibles and co-payments as required by their private health insurance, and these out-of-pocket expenses can be included in the calculation of economic damages. Some people will have future medical bills that can be estimated by a doctor, and these bills are part of an economic damage claim.

The more complicated part of evaluating a claim involves the analysis of noneconomic damages: the fright of being involved in an auto collision, the pain that is associated with an injury, the worry and concern about medical bills, and the inability to support a family and pay bills on time. These are the types of things that weigh heavily on the minds of our clients after an injury.

The most significant piece of the damage puzzle is the extent of the injuries sustained. Medical treatment provided immediately after an accident is important, but so is all follow-up care. It is very important to listen to the instructions of medical professionals during this process. Treatments may last over an extended period of time and require a patient to be dedicated to completing the recommended treatment plan. It is equally important to let doctors know the problems that continue during the healing process so that additional testing or treatment may be ordered. The "value" of this portion of the claim is based upon the injuries suffered, the length of treatment required, and any resulting permanent limitations or disabilities. It is critical to have proper medical documentation so that the details associated with medical treatment are clear.

We always advise our clients to pay close attention to their doctor's orders and emphasize that most people will have a better chance at a full recovery by doing so. Just as each accident is different, the value of a claim differs greatly because each person will go through different treatment and will have different concerns following an injury. As you can see from this short discussion, the issue of damages can be very complicated, and you need an attorney to assist you with evaluating and pursuing this type of claim.

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