Car accidents happen every day in Nevada, and many of those involved in these crashes suffer severe injuries. Neck and back injuries can be some of the most expensive types of injuries caused by a car accident. For example, the Christoper and Dana Reeve Foundation estimates that a severe spinal cord injury can cost victims over $1 million in medical and related costs in the first year of treatment alone, and millions more over the victim’s lifetime. And that is just the out-of-pocket (or economic) costs. Severe neck and back injuries also impose crushing emotional and physical costs on victims and their loved ones.
While some people balk at talking about how much a car accident is worth, the truth is that our civil justice system uses dollars-and-cents to set wrongs right. And so, anyone who suffers a neck or back injury in a car accident needs to know the value of that injury to decide how aggressively to pursue it, and whether or when to settle it.
A skilled attorney cannot (and will not) tell a new client how much a claim is worth without doing some investigation. In this blog, we discuss what lawyers look for in investigating a neck or back injury claim to determine the amount of money an injured client deserves.
Auto Insurance Basics
If this is your first time being involved in a motor vehicle accident, you may find the whole process seeking compensation for your injuries confusing. Most people purchase auto insurance because the law requires it to drive a car, and then rarely give it a second thought until an accident happens. Unfortunately, those people can come in for a rude awakening when they discover their insurance does not cover all of their needs.
Nevada law requires all drivers to carry a minimum amount of motor vehicle insurance. The law requires all drivers to carry at least $25,000 in bodily injury per person, $50,000 in bodily injury per accident, and $20,000 in property damage (25/50/20).
Keep in mind, however, that medical expenses following a serious car wreck are likely to cost substantially more than this. If the amounts of money required as insurance coverage seem slim to you, you are not alone. In today’s world of sky-high medical costs, your basic coverage will run out pretty quickly if you sustain anything worse than a minor neck or back injury in an auto accident. If the other driver who caused your accident carries only the bare minimum in liability insurance, that will run out pretty quickly, too.
That is why, if you sustain a back or neck injury in a car accident, it is important to hire a lawyer to help you identify all parties who may owe you money, and to help you calculate how much money you should seek from them and their insurers.
How Lawyers and Insurance Companies Calculate the Value of a Neck and Back Injury
There is no one-size-fits-all computation for determining how much a neck and back injury caused by a car accident is worth. Instead, determining the value of a claim requires a fact-intensive analysis of two broad categories of damages sustained by the accident victim: economic (also known as special) damages, and non-economic (also known as general) damages.
Economic (a.k.a. Special) Damages
Economic damages represent the accident victim’s (including the victim’s insurer’s) out-of-pocket and other measurable-in-dollars-and-cents costs relating to treating and recovering from a neck and back injury. In most car accident cases, they include:
- Medical expenses, such as emergency transportation, hospital stays, surgeries, doctor visits, physical, emotional, and occupational therapy, chiropractic care, and medical devices such as crutches and wheelchairs.
- Current and future lost wages, representing the amount of time you missed at work while recovering from your neck and back injury, as well as any future expected reduction in your income resulting from your injuries. This may include expected work time you will miss, as well as any reduction in your earning capacity because your injury hinders your ability to perform your job.
- Residential and vehicular modifications. Severe back and neck injuries, such as spinal cord injuries, can permanently restrict your mobility. You may need a wheelchair or other assistive device to get around. To accommodate these devices, you may need to spend substantial sums to modify your home to install ramps, handrails, and lifts, and to modify or purchase vehicles that you can operate.
- Replacement services. Neck and back injuries may prevent you from performing everyday tasks necessary for living a normal life, such as cooking, keeping house, tending a yard, and running errands. Economic damages can include past and future costs of hiring others to perform these tasks for you.
Non-Economic (a.k.a. General) Damages
- Pain and suffering. Severe neck and back injuries inflict significant physical and emotional pain. Car accident victims deserve compensation for being forced to endure this agony and anguish through no fault of their own. These are not simple damages to calculate, because everyone experiences pain differently and pain varies from injury-to-injury. Lawyers, insurance adjusters, and juries must instead use their own empathy and human intuition to assess the physical and emotional toll a neck and back injury takes.
- Loss of enjoyment, which is something of a mirror-image of pain and suffering. Severe neck and back injuries frequently rob a person of their ability to enjoy hobbies and pastimes in which they formerly found meaning and purpose. Like pain and suffering damages, what this reduction of quality of life costs the victim requires significant empathy and sensitivity to what the victim has endured.
- Wrongful death. A car accident that takes the life of an accident victim entitles the victim’s surviving spouse and/or relatives to seek compensation on the victim’s behalf through a wrongful death action. Ask a qualified attorney about your rights under Pennsylvania law to pursue such an action.
In certain limited cases involving particularly horrible conduct on the part of the person who caused an accident and injury, a court may award punitive damages as a way to punish the wrongdoer. An experienced Nevada car accident attorney can advise you whether you have the right to seek punitive damages arising from your neck and back injury.
Factors Affecting the Value of a Neck and Back Injury
How Is the Value of a Car Accident Claim with a Neck and Back Injury Calculated?
After carefully considering the factors listed above, your car accident attorney will establish a value to your claim through the use of a formula. This formula involves:
- The expenses you incurred from the accident are added together to create a total amount of economic damages.
- The more severe your neck and back injuries are, the more your non-economic damages.
- You add your total economic damages and non-economic damages together to determine a value to your claim.
One of the main reasons that an insurance adjuster will offer a settlement is to resolve a claim out-of-court for the least amount of money possible. Settlement is the preferred method of resolving claims for insurance companies. This is because it allows them to control the amount of the payout, as opposed to the expense and unpredictability of litigation. In fact, early settlement offers rarely cover your expenses, requiring your personal injury attorney to negotiate with the adjuster to garner an offer that will fairly compensate you for your neck and back injuries.
The settlement negotiation process can be a lengthy one, lasting from your initial demand to the insurance adjuster, all the way to the point where the court renders a decision on your claim.
The categories above explain the types of damages neck and back injury victims can recover. But what affects the size of those damages? Here are some of the factors that come into play:
- The nature and extent of your injuries. A spinal cord injury that permanently paralyzes a car accident victim is, broadly speaking, worth more than, say, a neck sprain that causes chronic pain. The more severely a neck and back injury impacts the victim’s life, the more the claim is worth in most cases.
- Pre-accident health status and pre-existing conditions. Part of the difficulty of any car accident claim is separating the injury the car accident caused from any health conditions that the victim already had. As a general matter, the healthier a victim was before the accident, the greater the value of an injury.
- Age. The longer a car accident victim must live with the negative effects of a neck and back injury, the higher the potential value of the case. (Of course, the age of an accident victim may also reflect a greater likelihood the victim will make a full recovery, which could tend to reduce the value of a claim.)
- Income (past and future). Though potentially unjust, our legal system takes how much money a person has earned and might have earned into account in putting a value on a neck and back injury. Some are critical of this factor, since it makes a claim worth less because of life factors often totally out of the victim’s control.
- Availability and strength of evidence. The more evidence there is tying a neck and back injury to a car accident, and showing the negative impact of the accident on the victim’s life, the higher the likelihood a lawyer could prove the case to a Nevada judge and jury. The stronger the case, the higher the potential value of the claim.
- Quality of attorney. Attorneys with strong reputations as trial lawyers and track records of success for clients tend to recover more money for their clients, on average, than attorneys who lack those credentials.
- The funds available to pay a claim. As a practical matter, a claim is only truly worth what the party with legal liability can pay—so the more insurance or assets that person or company has, the more a claim is worth. Likewise, the greater the number of parties at fault for causing neck and back injuries in a car accident, the greater the chance of a larger claim value.
So, Is There an Average Settlement for a Car Accident Neck and Back Injury?
Another point worth considering is that not all claims end with a settlement. True, most are 95 to 96 percent of all personal injury claims resolve before the trial begins. However, even the best and most experienced personal injury lawyers cannot always tell which cases will result in litigation or the outcome of a claim if it goes to trial.
Hire an attorney who is equally comfortable fighting for the compensation you deserve in the courtroom as they are with settlement negotiations. This reduces the pressure to accept a settlement that won’t compensate you for your expenses.
Short answer: No, not really. Of course, if you had access to every car accident settlement payment ever paid for car accident neck and back injuries, you could come up with an average number. That is, in effect, what insurance companies do when they decide how much money to offer an accident victim in a settlement.
But doing a simple mathematical calculation to find an average claim amount does not reflect the reality that every car accident neck and back injury claim is different. The factors above—including especially the quality of the lawyer and the evidence, and the availability of funds from which damages can be paid—go a long way affecting a claim’s value.
Is There a Maximum Amount I Can Recover?
As previously mentioned, the at-fault party’s insurance can constrain your personal injury claim. Even if your injuries resulted in millions of dollars worth of expenses and losses, there is a limit to how much an auto liability policy will cover.
If your expenses exceed the at-fault party’s policy limits, your attorney will investigate to see if other insured liable parties can provide compensation.
Yes and no. Some states impose a limit on how much a victim can recover in a personal injury case in compensatory damages. But not Nevada. Here, there is no fixed limit to how much money a person can seek as damages for a neck and back injury caused by a car accident. An exception is claims of negligence by government employees acting within the scope of their employment. Under Nevada law, damages against public employees are capped at $100,000.
Which is not to say there are no limits in an ordinary car accident claim. In the first place, the law does not tolerate unreasonable damage awards. There is no such thing as a claim for infinity dollars. Most everyone understands that any settlement or jury award must be reasonable to pass muster under Nevada law.
Get The Best Settlement Possible For Your Neck and Back Injury
There is nothing wrong with asking about how much a neck and back injury caused by a car accident is worth. That is the nature of our legal system; money is how lawyers, insurance companies, judges, and juries measure how a person has been harmed. To begin figuring out how much your neck and back injury is worth, contact an experienced car accident attorney today.
Benson & Bingham Accident Injury Lawyers, LLC
626 S 10th St
Las Vegas, NV 89101