If you have been injured in a car accident caused by a negligent driver, that driver’s insurance company is required to compensate you for injuries caused by its driver’s negligence. What many people do not know and what insurance companies will not tell you is exactly how much an insurance company is responsible for paying you in Georgia to compensate you for your injuries.
Unfortunately, some insurance companies may even try to mislead you into believing that they only have to cover your out-of-pocket expenses that were not covered by your own automobile or health insurance. That simply is not true. This, among other important reasons, is why it is always advisable that you seek the advice of a competent Atlanta car accident lawyer.
Components of A Car Accident Claim
In Georgia, if you are injured in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you are entitled to be made whole. While there are sometimes physical and emotional injuries that can never actually be made whole again after an accident, the mechanism the law provides for making you as whole as possible is financial compensation. Making you whole means putting you back in the position you were in right before the car accident or as close to it as is legally and physically possible.
No discussion of what a Georgia car accident claim is worth is complete without first discussing the components of the claim that make up the calculation of what a claim is worth. Generally speaking there are three main categories of compensation an injury victim is entitled to receive that form the basis for the value of a car accident claim:
- Medical Expenses—- Both Past and Future
- Lost Wages and/or Lost Earning Capacity —- Past, Present and Future
- Pain and Suffering— Past, Present and Future
Each of these categories of compensation are deserving of its own article. Below we touch on the basics of each category to give you an overview of how each is valued in Georgia.
Medical Bills—-Be Careful What the Insurance Company Claims You Are Owed
Some insurance companies may try to convince you that reimbursing your out-of-pocket expenses that were not covered by your own health insurance and paying you for any time you missed from your job makes you whole because you have been reimbursed for what the accident actually cost you. That is not the law in Georgia.
You are entitled to have the insurance company pay the full cost of each and every one of your medical and pharmacy bills as if you did not have any health insurance. The negligent driver’s insurance does not get to benefit from the fact that you have health insurance which negotiates discounted rates with your medical providers and covers a large chunk of your medical bills.
For example, if the emergency room visit cost $10,000 and your health insurance paid $3,000.00, you are entitled to be compensated $10,000 by the negligent driver’s insurance. Your health insurance may require you to reimburse them some of that $10,000 through a process known as subrogation, but a skilled personal injury attorney can usually negotiate a favorable settlement of any subrogation claim asserted by your health insurance that allows you to keep most of that money.
Lost Time From Work After Your Car Wreck
In addition to paying the full cost of your medical and pharmacy bills, the negligent driver’s insurance is also required to reimburse you for any time you missed from work as a result of the accident. Even if you were technically paid by your employer through the use of sick leave or vacation leave, you are still entitled to be reimbursed for the hours you missed from work as if you did not have paid leave available. If you own your own business, you may be able to recover additional compensation if your injuries negatively impacted your business’s profits.
Pain And Suffering Damages
On top of paying your full medical bills, lost wages, and any other expenses directly caused by the accident and injuries, the insurance company should also compensate you for your pain and suffering. Unlike medical bills and lost wages, the dollar value of pain and suffering is very difficult to quantify and is highly subjective. As a result, this is the measure of compensation that is fought over the most in a lawsuit.
Only you and perhaps your close friends and family truly know how much your injuries have caused you pain and suffering, but the individuals who ultimately would place a dollar value on it are twelve strangers on a jury who hear your case. Pain and suffering is usually calculated as a multiple of your quantifiable losses, (known as special damages) which include medical bills and lost wages.
Whether your special damages should be multiplied by two, three, or some other number to arrive at your total compensation including pain and suffering is influenced by numerous factors discussed in more detail below.
If you are injured in a car accident caused by an uninsured driver and are forced to file a claim with your own uninsured motorist insurer (called UM insurance), these same rules governing required compensation still apply to uninsured motorist claims. UM insurance is a unique situation that can be quite complicated in and of itself. We have written many times on the subject. Check out our car accident injury page for articles on this topic.
Factors That Affect The Value Of A Car Accident Claim
The above explained the nuts and bolts of numbers that go into the determination of the value of your claim. Now lets talk in more detail about various practical and evidentiary factors that affect the precise value of your claim. These factors affect how much a jury is willing to award you mainly for pain and suffering damages.
Severity of Impact
In car accident cases, the more severe the impact was the more likely a jury is going to award a larger amount for pain and suffering damages. This makes sense because people tend to believe that the plaintiff was seriously injured when the impact was very significant.
Pictures of the damage to the vehicles go a long way in helping jurors understand just how severely injured you were in the wreck. Witness testimony also is very helpful here.
Extent of Treatment
Common sense here. More extensive treatment for severe injuries means a larger pain and suffering award from a jury. This is the point of the system to compensate those who are truly injured and have suffered greatly because of someone else’s negligence.
This can be a big factor in the outcome of the value of a car accident case in Georgia. If you suffered from injuries in the past to the same area injured in the wreck, there is a greater chance a jury could believe a defense argument that your injuries were not caused by the wreck but had already been there.
If pre-existing injuries exist, testimony from your treating physician(s) about the pre-existing injury and how it was aggravated or made worse from the wreck is very helpful to your recovery.
Where Suit Is Filed
Believe it or not, where you have to file suit in a car accident case can greatly change the value of the claim. This is because the make of jurors who will hear your case and decide its value vary greatly from county to county in Georgia.
Jurors in one county may be naturally more receptive to personal injury cases versus more conservative jurors in other counties. Often times you do not have a choice of where to file your lawsuit. However, there are plenty of cases where you have several counties to choose from.
Corporate Defendant or Just Individual
In most car accident cases, the defendant is simply an individual. In these scenarios, the value of your case may be less than in cases where you are suing a company who owned the vehicle. This is because jurors are not allowed to know that insurance is involved and therefore are told that there award of damages to the plaintiff is against the individual defendant. Often times, this leads jurors to not value the case a high as they otherwise would because they do not think the defendant has the money to pay you.
On the other hand, if you are struck by a company vehicle, jurors tend to value your case much higher. This is because they know a company with plenty of money will be paying you. This is why tractor-trailer cases or other commercial vehicle cases tend to have much higher value than car accident cases between individuals.
Keep in mind that the above factors are simply generalizations of typical patterns and behaviors of jurors in valuing car accident cases in Georgia based on our experience trying cases. Each case is unique and each jury is unique. Therefore the above factors are not set in stone.