How Are Personal Injury Settlements Determined in the State of Pennsylvania?
Being injured can have catastrophic effects on your life. You might be put out of work, you might have medical bills or treatments that could go on for decades, and you might even struggle with new ways of life that alter your relationships or your lifestyle. Personal injury settlements can have outcomes dependent on many different factors, such as whether or not the accident happened at work, if anyone else was involved, or if any rules or laws were being broken at the time (by either party).
Before deciding if you are going to go forward with a personal injury settlement case, you will also need to take an honest look at your chances of winning your case if it goes to trial. You’ll need to understand the evidence, the credibility of both parties and witnesses, and a sense of what juries in your area of Pennsylvania have been deciding in cases like yours. A good personal injury lawyer can help you put all this into perspective.
Let’s explore how personal injury settlements are determined in the state of Pennsylvania so that you can begin the road to getting what you deserve.
What Qualifies as a Personal Injury in Pennsylvania?
Many types of injuries can qualify you to receive a damage settlement in Pennsylvania. If someone has hurt you, even by accident, you have the legal right to pursue action that can “make you whole,” even if that compensation is simply financial.
Some of the most common types of injuries that receive settlements are:
- ACL Tears
- Ankle Injuries
- Back injuries
- Bone fractures
- Brain injuries (Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBIs)
- Burn injuries
- Finger injuries
- Head injuries
- Hearing loss
- Nerve damage
- Neck injuries
- Knee injuries
- Shoulder injuries
- Slipped disks
- Soft tissue injuries
- Tooth damage
- Wrist injuries
The Magic Settlement Number
The first thing you have to do in order to negotiate an appropriate settlement is to determine the amount of money you would accept to let the case go. Would it be worth $5,000? $50,000? $500,000? That’s truly up to you, regarding the effect this injury has had on your life.
It can be difficult to simply place a number on something like that, though, so most attorneys have a formula to use as a jumping-off point. One formula that many agencies use takes a multiplier which is put together with your medical expenses (related to the injury). This product creates an estimate of damages for “pain and suffering,” or non-economic damages. Then you would add this to your actual economic losses, which include medical expenses, damage to property, lost wages, etc. With this new amount, you can begin negotiations.
The ”multiplier” is usually a number between 1.5 and 5 (including half points) that you would use to rate the amount of negative impact this injury has had on your life. If it was a broken toe that simply caused some pain and general annoyance for a few months, then you might rate your multiplier a 1.5. However, if the injury was a serious car accident that left you paralyzed in one leg for years, requiring intensive physical therapy to heal as well as changes to your home to allow for wheelchair access and a nurse to come to your home, then you would probably choose 5.
Special Damages + (General Damages x Multiplier) = ??
General damages are hard to put a number on because they don’t correlate with any tangible bills or losses, usually. They are comprised of things such as anxiety, day-to-day stress or suffering, mental unwellness, depression, and changes to your regular lifestyle.
Special damages, on the other hand, are easier to quantify. You can add up all your medical bills, the amount of lost wages when you couldn’t go to work, childcare expenses when you had to attend therapies, even the therapy you began to deal with the mental stress and anxiety from this injury.
A settlement adjuster will try to lower that multiplier you chose, however. This is usually where things get tricky and you want to have a good lawyer on your side. If you say that the injury had a negative effect of a 3.5 on your life, you don’t want your lawyer to cave when the adjuster says they think it really only should have been a 2.
Factors that affect a higher multiplier can include, but aren’t limited to:
- Serious injuries such as broken bones, back injuries, nerve damage, or joint injuries
- Medical bills for ongoing treatment
- Clinic, hospital, or doctor’s fees and visits
- Need for prescription medication
- Long-term period of pain or continued injury or therapies
- Extended recovery period
- Permanent injury or suffering, such as scar tissue or loss of mobility
- Physical, mental, or emotional distress
- Disruptions to your daily life, such as having to change jobs or schools, rescheduling training or vacations, or missing special life events
Factors that would qualify for a lower multiplier can include, but aren’t limited to:
- Soft tissue injuries, such as bruises, sprains, or strains
- Medical costs that are mainly for diagnosis instead of for an actual treatment
- Treatments by NDs, ODs, or holistic providers that are not MDs
- No need for medication
- Brief medical visits or treatments that allowed for quick healing
- Short recovery period
- No permanent or lasting injury or suffering
- No physical, mental, or emotional problems connected with the original injury
Adjusting for Your Own Part in the Injury
No one is perfect. You might have had a part to play in this injury, even if it wasn’t completely your fault. That’s okay—it will simply mean that you have to lower your settlement amount to compensate for what you should have done differently.
However, depending on the state in which the injury took place, what you have to adjust to will be different. There are three rules that go along with this part to a personal injury settlement. States that follow the “pure comparative negligence” rule say that the amount of your award must be reduced by the percentage of fault that you took in the accident. There are no limits here. So, if you claimed a 70% fault, 70% of the agreed-upon number from above would be removed from your award.
There are also “contributory negligence” states, in which you are not allowed any award if you are even at a 1% fault. Yikes!
Pennsylvania, however, is with the majority of states in our country, which are considered “modified comparative negligence states.” This means that the amount you received is reduced by your percentage of fault, but if your own fault is more than half, you cannot win any damages. This might bring your case down to winning nothing.
When Punitive Damages or Gross Negligence Are at Play in Pennsylvania
If you watch any type of law show, you’ve probably heard the attorneys talking about “punitive damages.” These aren’t very common, but they are awarded in a small number of cases when things go to trial. The person who was responsible for the injuries must have been engaging in highly outrageous or cruel behavior for punitive damages to be given out.
Punitive has the same root word as punish, and punitive damages are meant to do just that. They aren’t related to lost wages, medical bills, or even pain and suffering, but they’re supposed to be like salt in the wound to the person who caused the accident. For example, if a driver caused a car accident because he didn’t look over his shoulder at his blind spot, he might have to pay a personal injury settlement that includes the above amounts. However, if he knew the person behind him in the car and held a grudge from something else, and wanted to hurt that person on purpose, maliciously slamming on his brakes and swerving over into his lane, then punitive damages might be at stake.
Gross negligence is reckless conduct that has no thought or regard for another person’s safety or human rights. This would include drunk driving, driving down the highway with no lights on at 100 miles an hour “for fun,” or engaging in some other type of reckless behavior.
Other Factors in Pennsylvania
The lawyers on both sides will also take into consideration how organized and professional the plaintiff was in connection with their claims and the case as a whole. You want to be serious, but not highly emotional and over the top. Your communication should be trustworthy and respectful, instead of shady and disdainful.
On the other hand, if the defendant was not credible, sympathetic, or remorseful, that could go in your favor as the plaintiff. A judge usually wants to see that someone who caused pain and suffering understands the effects of their actions and that they are not likely to do it again.
If you have witnesses who can vouch for your side of the story, as well as provide character witnesses for you, then that will also make a positive step to getting the money you deserve.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer, like the ones at Mattiacci Law in Pennsylvania, is probably the best way to ensure that you are getting every penny that should be coming to you. The experienced professionals at Mattiacci Law Firm know how to address your case so that all the information comes across in the best way to get you what you need. Let us help you heal financially so that you can concentrate on healing physically.