What’s my personal injury case worth? This is by far the most common question I get as a personal injury attorney. I am going to walk you through all the components and variables that make up a personal injury accident case’s value in Atlanta and the rest of Georgia. At the risk of sounding a little condescending, most small personal injury cases in Atlanta are not the lottery. My goal on this page is to teach you how to talk about and evaluate your personal injury case’s damages in hopes that you will walk away with two things:
- You will develop realistic expectations on what your personal injury case is worth in Atlanta (Fulton County) and elsewhere in Georgia.
- You will know how to intelligently talk to me (or whoever you end up hiring) about your case’s value damage-type by damage-type.
Types of Personal Injury Damages Allowed in Georgia
The types of money you are entitled to under Georgia law are called “damages.” You normally have access to multiple types of damages. Add them together and you have your personal injury case’s value.
Personal Injury Damages – Special vs. General Damages
Damages are usually broken up into 2 big categories: Special and General damages. Special damages are damages capable of an exact value. It is easiest to think of these as all the things for which you have bills or receipts. In most personal injury cases, special damages consist of medical expenses and lost wages.
Special damages usually also have a past, present and future amount. For example, you could have medical expenses currently totaling $100,00. That is your past and present medical expenses. But, say your doctor has indicated you will need a hip replacement in 15 years because of the probability of arthritis down the road. The cost of that surgery and recover is a future medical expense. I need to bring in economists and billing experts to figure out what the present value of those future procedures is so that you get the money now to fund the future treatment. This is probably one of the best examples of how the personal injury system helps people in Georgia. In this example, I can help get funds for a future surgery for someone who could not otherwise afford it. Future lost wages are also available as part of your damages.
General damages on the other hand aren’t capable of being calculated. They are left up to a Georgia jury to come up with a number. The biggest general damage we have all heard of is Pain and Suffering. We can argue for a dollar amount, and present testimony to give a reason for that number, but at the end of the day a jury comes up with a number. In Georgia you will often hear the phrase “the enlightened conscious of the jury,” meaning it is up to the jury. Pain and suffering includes the past, present, and future. So the personal injury system will provide you compensation for future suffering provided we have expert evidence that you will suffer pain in the future.
Personal Injury Accident Medical Expenses
Medical expenses deserve further conversation. Your medical treatment and its associated expenses are the center of your personal injury claim in many ways. In addition to receiving past, present, and future medical expenses, you are usually entitled to the full face value of any bill.
This means that if you have health insurance or some other third party paying your medical bills, you still get the full face value of the bill. This is called the Collateral Source Rule in Georgia. It says that a Georgia jury cannot hear evidence of other people paying for your medical treatment. The rationale is that the wrong doer should not have the benefit of having his/her/its damages reduced because someone else helped pay. The wrongdoer is on the hook for the full amount as if no one paid part of your accident injury expenses.
Now sometimes you will have to re-pay your health insurer when you recover an award. This issue can fill a whole book and a personal injury accident attorney can really help you negotiate down or sometimes dispute repayment outright. But even if you have to pay your health insurer back, you still get a margin. The health insurer will pay a reduced rate to doctors and hospitals based on a payment contract they have between each other. You get the full value of the medical bill. So if the bill is for $1,000 and the health insurance company only paid the doctor $750, that means you keep the $250 difference.
Now I have been saying the “full face value” of the bills. But, this assumes the charges were fair, reasonable, and medically necessary. A defendant in litigation can dispute the charges and/or whether they were medically necessary, but they will need an expert to do it. Where you usually see this come up is with the high-volume, personal injury attorneys who advertise on TV – who send their clients to doctors that are in cahoots with the attorney. Together, they run up treatment that may not be necessary. This is called “bill building.” Some personal injury attorneys do this to increase your medical expenses because they know it is a large chunk of your damages that adjusters, insurance companies, and sometimes juries use as a multiplier to figure out your personal injury claim’s pain and suffering award.
In addition to general and special damages, there are lots of intangibles that can affect your personal injury case’s value. This is really where my experience comes in. I can factor a lot of these intangibles because of prior cases and trials, as well as the time I spend constantly talking to fellow personal injury attorneys about all this stuff.
Credibility is one of the biggest intangibles in a personal injury case. I am talking about the credibility of you as a witness on your own behalf as well as the defendant’s witnesses. If you lose credibility with the jury, the case is done. You deposition, and how we work through written discovery, allows the defense attorney the opportunity to size you up. In fact, as a former defense attorney, I can tell you one of the things we always reported back to the insurance company was how a plaintiff presented at his/her deposition. This is why you will repeatedly hear me tell you to not overstate your story or injuries and to always tell the truth, even if not favorable. We must own the good and bad of your personal injury claim and let the system work.
Likewise, if the defendant loses credibility the jury can punish him/her for it. That is why I always investigate the defendant’s criminal record, prior litigation history, employment, and anything else that may reflect on his/her character.
Other intangibles include who the judge is assigned to your case, who the defense firm is and the county in which the case has to be filed in (called venue) to name a few.