Q: Is there a minimum personal injury settlement amount?
A: No, there is no minimum or maximum amount when it comes to injury settlements. Every case is different in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and what is at stake. The amount of a settlement in a personal injury case depends on a whole host of factors, including:
- the nature and extent of the plaintiff/claimant's injuries, including "pain and suffering" and the long-term impact of the injuries
- the clarity of who was at fault for the underlying accident, and
- the willingness of one side or the other to play "hardball" and let the case go to court if need be.
Learn more about estimating the potential value of your claim: How Much is an Injury Claim Worth?
Q: Are medical bills included in an injury settlement?
A: Yes, payment (or reimbursement for payment) of medical bills will be a component of any settlement that is reached in an injury-related insurance claim or lawsuit. The plaintiff/claimant will be compensated for all medical treatment necessitated by the accident. That includes reimbursement for medical bills already paid, and a plan for payment of all future medical treatment that will be necessary. Learn more: You’ve Been Injured. Who Pays Your Medical Bills?
One thing to be aware of when it comes to getting compensation for medical bills that have already been paid: Your health insurance provider may have a lien on part of your settlement, if your provider already paid some or all of the bills that you later get compensated for. Learn more about Medical Liens in Injury Cases.
Q: I keep hearing about general damages and special damages. What’s the difference?
A: In personal injury parlance, the different kinds of compensation you can receive are divided into two main groups: general damages and special damages. General damages are also sometimes called “non-economic” damages, and special damages may be referred to as “economic.”
Basically, general damages are the kinds of harm and losses that stem from the underlying accident or injury, but are not easily quantified and can be more subjective. This includes compensation for any pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, lost companionship, disfigurement, and similar harm caused by the accident and resulting medical treatment.
Special damages are losses that are easy (or easier) to quantify (put a dollar figure on, in other words). This includes compensation for medical treatment, lost wages, lost income opportunity, property damage, and other economic losses resulting from the accident, medical treatment, and any resulting disability or limitation.
Learn more about Special Damages vs. General Damages.
Q: How do I collect my personal injury settlement?
A: It depends on the specifics of your case. If the defendant had an insurance policy that kicked in to cover the accident, chances are that you (or your attorney) have been negotiating with the insurance carrier, either before you ever filed a personal injury lawsuit, or while the lawsuit is ongoing. In that case, the insurance company will usually just write a check for the agreed-upon amount and you will sign a release that absolves the insurer and the defendant of any further liability in connection with the incident that gave rise to your claim.
If you sued the defendant directly and there is no insurance coverage in play in the case, things can get more complicated, especially when your case has gone all the way to trial and you’ve received a judgment in your favor (which includes an order that the defendant pay you a certain amount in damages). Getting a judgment is one thing, but getting your money is another, and it will be a challenge if the defendant does not have much in the way of assets.
Read Collecting a Settlement or Judgment in a Slip and Fall Case to get an idea of how the process works.
Q: What does it mean when a lawyer takes a case “on contingency”?
A: In most personal injury cases, if you decide to retain a lawyer to handle your case, he or she will represent you under a contingency fee. This means that you do not pay anything “up front”, and your lawyer will only be paid if your case reaches a favorable solution for you -- either through an agreed-upon settlement or after a civil court trial.
Then, your lawyer will collect a percentage that was agreed-upon in the initial fee agreement you signed. Typically, this percentage is around 33 percent, but many fee agreements spell out that the percentage is lower if the case resolves before a lawsuit is filed, then the lawyer’s cut increases gradually the further along the case progresses. Learn more about Lawyers’ Fees and Your Personal Injury Settlement.