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Damages: How Much Will I be Awarded at the End of My Case ?

What are damages in a personal injury case, how are cases valued and what will I be awarded at the end of my case ? These are some of the issues I discuss in today's blog post.

If you are injured and you file a personal injury claim against another person, business, municipality or some other type of legal entity your remedy at the end of a trial is financial damages. How do lawyers decide what a case is worth ? What evidence do we look at to determine what is a fair settlement ? These are some of the questions I thought i should address in today's blog. In the New York jury instructions, it is suggested to Judges that they charge a jury ("charge" is basically an instruction to a jury) that they award damages that fairly and justly compensate the plaintiff for all losses resulting from the injuries the plaintiff sustained. Obviously, damages are not awarded to a plaintiff unless the jury finds that the defendant caused the injuries and the jury determines that the plaintiff is entitled to damages.

An award of damages is intended to restore the injured party to a position that he or she held prior to the injury. Restoring a person to their position prior to the injury is done by awarding compensation to the party for actual damages sustained and future damages that will be incurred as well. Unfortunately, there is no legal criteria aside from life experience to translate pain and suffering into money. Juries are free to award damages that have a reasonable basis for computation are are not merely speculative, possible or imaginary. A jury has the right to resort to reasonable conjecture and probable estimates to make the best approximation possible through the exercise of good judgment and common sense to arrive at an award of damages.

So, with this information in mind, how do we attorneys and insurance industry professionals place a value on a case ?

First, what is the severity of a plaintiff's injuries ? Fractures are worth more than soft tissue injuries like sprains and sprains. If an injury requires surgery, the value of the case will be affected as well. The period of rehabilitation is considered as well as the period of continuing medical treatment and the cost of the continuing medical treatment. Lost time from work is also considered as well as out of pocket expenses for medical services, medications, orthopedic devices, transportation to and from medical appointments, ambulance care, or any other out of pocket expense you can think of when considering the course of someone's medical treatment.

Second, attorneys consider where the cases is venued. What does that mean ? The venue is the Court where the case is located and each county in New York is a separate venue. As a general rule of thumb, the more urban a community is, the higher the verdicts and settlements. A case venued in the Bronx or Brooklyn is going to be valued at a higher amount than a case venued in Herkimer County which is in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains.

Attorneys will also consider the circumstances of the accident. If there was an incident that was particularly gruesome or shocking, that will affect the value of a case. Likewise, a sympathetic client who is a plaintiff will affect the value of a case as well. Children and the elderly are normally very sympathetic while a litigation attorney probably is not so sympathetic. People who are well dressed and articulate will make a better impression on a jury as well.

Punitive damages may also be something that come into play in your case. When do punitive damage issues arise ? When the defendant's conduct show a high degree of immorality or wanton dishonesty. The purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate the plaintiff but to punish the defendant and discourage the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct. An act is consider malicious when it is done deliberately with knowledge of the plaintiff's rights and with the intent to interfere with those rights. An act is considered wanton and reckless when it demonstrates conscious indifference and utter disregard of its effect upon the health and safety of others. While many people like to discuss punitive damages, the standard of proof on this issue, even though there is a difference in the Appellate Courts in New York, is difficult to meet and is not frequently asserted and awarded. As a practical matter, insurance companies often disclaim coverage and then there is no policy from which the plaintiff and counsel can collect, if punitive damages are asserted.

In summary, there are a number of factors that attorneys consider when determining the value of a case. One tool that almost every attorney uses, in addition to the considerations above, is research. Verdicts and settlements are reported in New York and attorneys have access to this information. We are able to come up with a range of values for almost any given case and modify it based on the individual facts presented in our client's case.

All of this being said, I hope you and those you love do not find yourselves in the position of being a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit. However, if you are injured due to someone's negligence, please call an experienced attorney and consult them right away. We are available and willing to provide you with a free consultation and a free case evaluation. All you need to do is call us at 1.800.900.6204. Michael R. Varble & Associates, P.C., we'll fight for you !