How much is your Chicago personal injury claim worth? It is impossible to provide a definitive answer to this question without a close look at the facts of your case.
Even then, it may take a period of investigation to formulate a ballpark estimate. What can happen now, however, is the identification and description of the factors that typically determine the ultimate value of a personal injury claim.
Available Compensation in a Chicago Personal Injury Claim
Illinois personal injury law allows you to seek economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages if you qualify for them.
Economic damages are easy-to-count, tangible losses that include medical expenses, lost earnings, property damage, out-of-pocket costs, and miscellaneous expenses.
Accumulated Medical Expenses
“Accumulated medical expenses” means your reasonable and necessary medical expenses so far. Refer to your medical bills to calculate this amount.
Future Medical Expenses
Future medical expenses are costs for treatment that you have not yet received. If you have already fully recovered, you might not have any future medical expenses. However, if your injuries are long-term or permanent, you might have to hire an expert witness to help you estimate your medical expenses months, years, or even decades into the future.
Accumulated Lost Earnings
Your accumulated lost earnings represent income that you have lost so far. This can be tricky to calculate if you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur. It is easier to calculate if you are a wage-earning employee.
Diminished Earning Capacity
Did your injuries leave you with an occupational disability? Have you been able to return to your normal work duties? If not, will you even be able to?
You might need a financial expert to estimate how much potential income you will lose in the future as a consequence of your disability. The younger you are, the more you are likely to lose and the greater your compensation is likely to be.
You can demand property damage arising out of your claim. The most common property damage claim is damage to a vehicle in a traffic accident.
Out-of-Pocket and Miscellaneous Expenses
Out-of-pocket and miscellaneous expenses might include:
- Household services
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Childcare expenses
- Travel expenses (to medical appointments, etc.)
- Various other relevant expenses
You can include all reasonable and necessary expenses that arise out of your injuries.
Under Illinois law, non-economic damages include damages for pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of consortium, disability, and loss of society. These amounts can be immense. Pain and suffering damages alone are often worth 100% to 500% of economic damages.
Punitive damages are designed to punish the at-fault party, not to compensate you. Nevertheless, if a court awards them, you still get the money. Courts usually don’t award punitive damages even when they rule in favor of the plaintiff (the injury victim).
Outrageous behavior, such as driving while intoxicated or deliberately assaulting someone, might trigger an award of punitive damages if it causes injury.
Limitations on the Value of Your Chicago Personal Injury Claim
Once you add up your damages, the amount of money you eventually put into your pocket depends on any applicable deductions. Following is a list of the most common deductions.
Most Chicago personal injury attorneys work under a contingency fee system, which means their legal fees equal a pre-agreed percentage of your total compensation. Typically this amount is about one-third, although it might be as much as 40% if your case goes to trial.
To put this into perspective, however, you could still end up way ahead if your lawyer doubles or triples the value of your claim.
Case expenses might include investigation expenses, court fees, expert witness fees, etc. Remember that it might be wise to file a lawsuit and pay court fees even if you eventually plan to settle out of court. Most lawyers will pay these fees upfront and deduct them from your compensation if you win.
Insurance Coverage Limitations
You face a serious inherent limitation if you depend on an insurance policy to pay your compensation. No matter how meritorious your claim is and no matter how much it is worth, no insurance company will pay you any more than the policy limits.
If your claim is worth 10 million dollars but it’s insured for $1,000,000, you cannot receive more than $1,000,000. You can seek the remainder from the defendant directly, but if the defendant cannot afford to pay, you are out of luck. You might get lucky, however—commercial truckers carry substantial insurance policies, for example, and large corporate employers often pay large sums for claims against at-fault employees.
Modified Comparative Fault
The principle of comparative negligence applies when more than one party is at fault for a Chicago accident. If you bear partial liability, you could lose some or all of your compensation. If you are 50% or less at fault, your loss is proportionate to your fault.
For example, if you are 20% at fault, you will lose 20% of your compensation. If you are 51% or more at fault, however, you will lose all of your compensation.
Poor Negotiating Skills
Negotiation is an art. Insurance adjusters, in particular, are skilled negotiators. If you are not, seek the assistance of a skilled Chicago personal injury lawyer to negotiate on your behalf. Often the mere retention of a reputable personal injury lawyer will trigger a generous settlement offer from the opposing party.
Inherent Claim Limitations
Some types of claims include inherent limits. For example:
- Non-economic damages are unavailable in workers’ compensation claims.
- Strict limits apply to lawsuits for money damages against a government entity (state, local, or federal). Most government agencies won’t allow you to recover punitive damages, for example.
Some of these limitations are subject to loopholes. For example, in some workplace accident cases, you can step outside the workers’ compensation system and file a personal injury claim against a third party.
A discussion of tax liability is beyond the scope of this article. Put succinctly, however, although personal injury damages are mostly non-taxable (except for punitive damages), there are some tax implications that you need to be aware of. When in doubt, speak with a tax lawyer.
Contact a Chicago Personal Injury Attorney for Help Calculating Your Damages and Maximizing Your Compensation
You might be better off handling an insignificant claim on your own. If your claim is large or complex, however, you almost certainly need a lawyer. Between these two extremes lies a gray zone. When in doubt, it is prudent to assume your need for a lawyer.
Schedule a free initial consultation at (312) 929-2884 with a Chicago personal injury lawyer at Attorneys of Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers if you are in doubt. Because personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, they have no incentive to sugarcoat an assessment of the true value of your claim.