No reputable Minneapolis personal injury lawyer will give you an exact figure for the value of your personal injury claim. The more your lawyer knows about your claim, the more specifically they are going to be able to estimate its value.
Nevertheless, every claim is different. The best way to estimate the value of your claim is to understand the factors upon which that value is based and then plug in values based on the facts of your particular case.
Minnesota, like other states, recognizes three categories of personal injury damages. Those categories are economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. A description of each type follows.
Economic damages are losses that are tangible and easy to count. They include medical expenses, lost earnings, and out-of-pocket expenses.
In principle, the defendant owes you 100% of your medical expenses. After all, why should you pay a dime in medical expenses for an accident caused by someone else? Your medical expenses, however, must be necessary and reasonable. An insurance company is likely to question unconventional medical treatments. Even acupuncture might raise some questions.
In addition to past and current medical expenses, the defendant also owes you for your future medical expenses, at least to the extent that they can be established with reasonable medical certainty.
If your injuries left you with a permanent disability, it could be difficult to calculate your future medical expenses. Such a calculation could be particularly difficult if you are young and you need to calculate your medical expenses for, say, 40 years from now. You might need to retain an expert to help you.
How many days of work did you miss because of your injuries? Theoretically, it should be easy to determine your lost earnings. Simply determine how much money you make every day and multiply that figure by the number of days of work you missed due to your injuries. In practice, however, this calculation can become a lot more difficult. Imagine, for example, that you are a sole proprietor or that your income is variable.
In cases of catastrophic injury, you also need to take into account any diminished earning capacity that you suffered. Were you able to return to your old job? If not, will you ever be able to return?
If your injuries prevent you from engaging in your prior occupation, and if you have to take a lower-paying job instead, the defendant owes you the difference in income. If your injuries are permanent, they might owe you decades of diminished earning capacity.
Out-of-pocket expenses include incidental expenses such as OTC medication, child care while you’re in the hospital, housecleaning, and similar expenses. These expenses could add up to a significant amount.
Non-economic damages include losses that are difficult to count, typically losses that are psychological in nature, such as:
- Physical pain and suffering,
- Mental anguish;
- Emotional distress,
- Any decrease in your overall quality of life,
- The psychological effects of scarring and disfigurement, and
- The inconvenience of dealing with disability and permanent impairment.
If your injuries are serious enough, your spouse might be able to win a claim for loss of consortium. Under Minnesota law, loss of consortium refers to loss of physical and emotional intimacy.
As the name implies, courts award punitive damages to punish the defendant. Nevertheless, the money still goes to the victim. Courts do not often award punitive damages, but when they do, it is on top of economic and non-economic damages.
Courts don’t like to award punitive damages even if the victim wins economic and non-economic damages. To win them, you must provide “clear and convincing evidence” of the defendant’s “deliberate disregard” for the safety or rights of others. An intentional injury might qualify, but even a DUI accident may or may not qualify.
There is often a big difference between ”gross” compensation and “net” compensation, which can operate to reduce the amount of compensation that you actually receive. Following is a list of inherent limitations on the amount of your personal injury settlement.
Insurance Policy Limits
Ultimately, an at-fault defendant is liable for a personal injury claim. An insurance company, if it is liable at all, is liable only up to its stated policy limits — and not a penny more.
If insurance policy limits prevent you from collecting the full amount of your claim, you can always sue the defendant for the difference. The problem is that the defendant might lack the resources to pay the remainder of your claim.
PIP in Car Accidents
In Minnesota, special rules apply to compensation for car accidents. The reason for these rules is to prevent Minnesota courts from becoming clogged with car accident claims. Minnesota is a no-fault state. What that means in practice is that if you suffer a car accident injury, you normally cannot sue the at-fault driver. Instead, you must file a claim against your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance policy.
If your injuries exceed $4,000 in reasonable medical expenses or if you suffered at least 60 days of disability or disfigurement, your injuries qualify as “serious” injuries.
In that case, you can step outside of the Minnesota no-fault system and sue the at-fault driver for economic, non-economic, and perhaps even punitive damages.
Under the Minnesota comparative fault system, if you were partly at fault for the accident, a court will assign you a specific percentage of fault. if your percentage of fault exceeds 50%, you will receive no compensation whatsoever. If it is 50% or less, the court will deduct that exact percentage from your compensation. This could reduce your total compensation by up to 50%.
Deductions From Your Compensation
In addition to the inherent limitations on your compensation, you must also deal with certain deductions. Please see below for details.
Your lawyer will take your legal fees out of your final compensation. That means if you have no compensation, you will owe your lawyer nothing for their representation. As long as you receive either a settlement or a verdict, you will owe your lawyer a certain amount of money.
Under the contingency fee system, this amount is typically expressed as a percentage of your compensation. The typical contingency fee is 33% of the amount that you win.
That might sound like a lot of money. Nevertheless, keep in mind your net gain if your lawyer triples the amount of money that you win at the expense of 33% in legal fees.
It costs money to prepare a claim. Some typical expenses include:
- Investigation expenses.
- Court fees if you file a lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit can be a strategic move that never leads to an actual trial.
- Copies of your medical records.
- Expert witness fees.
- Costs for pretrial discovery.
- Other expenses.
Most lawyers will pay these expenses up front and then eat them if you lose the case. If you win the case, however, your lawyer will deduct these fees from your compensation.
Other expenses might include a medical lien, insurance subrogation, or taxes. Taxes are typically negligible unless you win punitive damages. Consult a tax lawyer if you are uncertain.
Do You Need a Minneapolis Personal Injury Lawyer?
If you suffered a serious personal injury, there is a good chance that you have no idea how much your claim is worth. Insurance adjusters absolutely love claimants that don’t know the true value of their own claim.
One way of determining the true value of your claim is to get a qualified Minneapolis personal injury attorney involved right from the beginning. Your lawyer might not be able to tell you the exact value of your claim immediately, but over time the picture should become clearer and clearer.