How Much is My Personal Injury Case Worth?
Figuring Out How Much Your Injury Claim is Worth
After an injury from an accident or as a result of another party’s negligence, you might consider filing a personal injury lawsuit.
At Peace Law Firm, we know that the prospect of filing a personal injury claim can feel daunting.
Especially when you are dealing with the physical and emotional injuries you sustained, numerous medical appointments, and the financial losses associated with lost wages due to your inability to work.
Yet these issues are some of the most important reasons that you should be considering a personal injury lawsuit. You deserve to seek financial compensation for your losses, and you may be eligible to receive damages by filing a claim.
You are probably asking yourself: how much is my personal injury case worth? While it is important to recognize that each case is different, we can provide you with some general information about how personal injury claims allow a plaintiff to obtain compensation.
By reaching out to our firm, an experienced South Carolina personal injury attorney can analyze the specific facts of your case and provide you with more detailed information about the kind of compensation you might be able to expect.
Compensatory Damages in a South Carolina Personal Injury Lawsuit
In South Carolina, a personal injury plaintiff can be eligible to seek compensatory damages in most cases. Compensatory damages provide compensation for a plaintiff’s losses. There are two types of compensatory damages for which a plaintiff may be eligible
This type of compensatory damages award compensates a plaintiff for economic or pecuniary losses.
In other words, economic damages are for losses that have an objective economic amount or price tag. For example, hospital bills, prescription medication costs, rehabilitative therapy costs, and lost wages are all examples of economic damages.
To determine the amount of economic damages, a court looks at evidence of the specific amount lost, such as a hospital bill, a prescription medication receipt, or a pay stub (to determine the amount that the plaintiff would have been paid had she been able to work)
South Carolina law defines this type of damage award as one that compensates for things that cannot be assigned a value. They include:
- pain and suffering
- physical impairment
- mental anguish
- emotional distress
- loss of consortium
- injury to reputation
They also might include any other damages including, but not limited to, fear of loss, illness, or injury.
In other words, these are damages that do not have an objective dollar amount, but rather are subjective in that one plaintiff could be awarded a much different amount for pain and suffering than another plaintiff who was injured in an accident.
At the same time, this kind of damages award is also subjective in that two members of a jury might disagree on the appropriate amount of money that would compensate a plaintiff for pain and suffering.
South Carolina law caps noneconomic damages in certain cases, particularly those involving medical malpractice. If your personal injury lawsuit alleges that a healthcare provider was negligent, you should discuss with your attorney how the noneconomic damages caps may affect your compensation award.
Punitive Damages in a South Carolina Personal Injury Case
Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages and are only awarded in cases where it is appropriate to punish the defendant for particularly egregious negligence or wrongdoing. While punitive damages are awarded to the plaintiff, it is important to understand that they are not designed to compensate a plaintiff for any of her losses. Instead, they are designed to punish the defendant and to deter similar conduct in the future.
In some cases, personal injury plaintiffs may be eligible to seek punitive damages. Under S.C. Code § 15-32-510, punitive damages may be awarded in certain claims where the plaintiff specifically seeks punitive damages in the complaint. In addition, in order for a plaintiff to be eligible to receive punitive damages, she must be able to show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s harm “was the result of the defendant’s willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.”
The evidentiary standard of “clear and convincing evidence” is a heightened standard, which means that the plaintiff has to have very strong evidence in order for punitive damages to be awarded. To be clear, punitive damages will not be awarded in a case of ordinary negligence. Instead, the negligence must be so egregious so as to be reckless, or the defendant must have engaged in intentionally harmful conduct for punitive damages to be appropriate.
Comparative Fault Can Affect a Plaintiff’s Damages Award
We often work with plaintiffs who ask: What happens if I am partially at fault for the accident that caused my injuries, or what happens if the defendant says I am partially to blame? These questions concern an issue known as “comparative fault.”
Comparative fault is a defense that is raised by the defendant, which alleges that the plaintiff bears some responsibility for her own injuries and thus the defendant should not have to pay damages (or should not have to pay the full amount of damages).
South Carolina’s comparative fault law operates under a theory known as “modified comparative fault.” This means that a plaintiff is still eligible to receive compensation as long as her own negligence is not greater than the negligence of the defendant (or defendants).
In other words, as long as a plaintiff is only 50 percent at fault or less, then the plaintiff can still recover damages. However, her damages award will be offset by her percentage of fault. For example, consider the following hypothetical scenario:
- Court finds a plaintiff to be 30 percent at fault;
- Court awards a total of $100,000 in damages;
- Based on modified comparative fault law, that $100,000 damages award is reduced by the plaintiff’s portion of negligence, which is 30 percent (so, subtract 30 percent of $100,000, or $30,000); and
- Plaintiff obtains $70,000 in compensation.
Once a plaintiff is 51 percent or more responsible, South Carolina law bars the plaintiff from recovery. To be clear, in most cases, a plaintiff who is determined to be partially at fault still can recover damages, but a personal injury attorney can help to prove that the plaintiff should not bear any responsibility for her own injuries and should be eligible to receive 100 percent of the damages award.
How a Plaintiff Obtains Compensation in a Personal Injury Claim
When you work with a South Carolina personal injury lawyer on your case, you do not always have to wait for a jury verdict in order to obtain compensation for your losses. There are several ways that a plaintiff can be compensated, and some avenues are quicker than others:
- Insurance claim: For most personal injury lawsuits, your personal injury lawyer will determine whether you may be eligible to receive compensation from an insurance company—most often the insurance policy held by the defendant. In situations where the insurance company will provide you with compensation, it may not be necessary to move forward with a lawsuit. However, there are many reasons that an insurance payout will be insufficient to cover your losses. In some cases, the insurance company will not offer a reasonable settlement amount, and it is necessary to go to court. In other cases, insurance limits may mean that the insurance company cannot adequately compensate you.
- Negotiating with the defendant: Once you file a personal injury lawsuit, your lawyer can begin negotiating with the defendant’s attorney to obtain a reasonable settlement. In many cases, the defendant does not want to take the case to the conclusion of a trial and to a jury verdict, and thus the defendant may be willing to offer a reasonable settlement. For many plaintiffs, a reasonable settlement can provide faster compensation, and can allow you to begin repaying your bills faster. However, defendants are not always willing to negotiate, and it may be necessary to take your case all the way to a jury verdict.
- Jury verdict: When the defendant will not negotiate or will not offer a reasonable settlement, your lawyer is prepared to take your case to a jury verdict. At this point, the jury can decide on a reasonable compensatory damages award and, if you sought punitive damages, a punitive damages award.
Statute of Limitations and Eligibility for Compensation
To ensure that you are eligible to receive damages for your personal injury case, you need to ensure that you file your claim within the time window set by the statute of limitations. Most personal injury claims have a three-year statute of limitations. This means that a plaintiff must file her personal injury lawsuit within three years from the date of the injury. Failure to file within three years can mean that the claim is barred, and the plaintiff cannot obtain compensation.
A personal injury attorney in South Carolina can get started on your case today and can ensure that your claim is filed on time.
Contact a South Carolina Personal Injury Lawyer
If you need assistance with a personal injury claim, an aggressive South Carolina personal injury attorney at Peace Law Firm can help. Contact us to learn more about the services we provide to plaintiffs in personal injury cases.