Spinal cord injury victims and their families are rightly concerned with the amount of financial compensation that they can receive in a settlement or lawsuit. The cost of caring for these catastrophic injuries is overwhelming. Beyond the medical costs, an SCI can have numerous other secondary financial effects on the accident victim in their family.
SCIs are in the same category as traumatic brain injuries as two of the most expensive types of personal injuries. Before you seek financial compensation for your injuries, you must know exactly how much you deserve. Otherwise, you risk settling your case for too little and running out of money when you need it in the future.
You may ask your spinal cord injury lawyer at the initial consultation how much your case may be worth. Most attorneys will try to avoid giving you a direct answer because they cannot know how much your case is worth until they dig deeper into the full extent of your injuries and how they impact your life. The lawyer can explain the concepts of personal injury damages and how they may affect your case, but you never want to put much stock in an impromptu estimate when there are so many more details to learn.
Much of the value of your claim depends on the cost of your medical treatment. Practically every spinal cord injury will have medical expenses that exceed $1 million.
According to the Christopher Reeve Foundation, here are the average medical expenses that SCI patients can expect in the first year and over the rest of their lifetime:
These expenses are solely to treat the medical issues related to the spinal cord injury. Initially, the accident victim may need one or more surgical procedures to stabilize the injured area. The early days after the SCI are the most crucial. Doctors might minimize some of the damage through aggressive early surgical intervention. These procedures are complex, although there is more hope now than there has ever been for spinal cord injury victims.
In addition, an SCI patient may need expensive medical equipment to help them with the activities of daily life. Their homes may need retrofitting to accommodate their condition. All of these are compensable in a spinal cord accident Injury lawsuit.
Medical expenses, while prohibitively high, are just one part of the damages that a patient sustains from a spinal cord injury. These injuries take away some or all of the quality of life that the victim had before the accident. In most cases, their injury will permanently change their life.
Lost wages are a prime area where claimants and insurance companies disagree. The insurance company will try to look at things from their perspective of what you earn today. They tend to selectively overlook what you might learn tomorrow. Legally, you deserve payment for what you should have earned in the future. Your job today may not be the one that you hold in the future. You may progress in your field and earn higher-paying promotions. Your lost wages compensation should factor in your earnings potential in the future and not just what you are making today.
SCI compensation claims are already complicated enough. Non-economic costs are where an SCI case can get extremely difficult. There is room for a major difference of opinion between you and the defendant (and their insurance company) regarding what you deserve for non-economic damages.
The primary type of non-economic damage is pain and suffering. Not only do you have a legal right to receive compensation for the physical pain and discomfort that you must endure, but you should also receive payment for things like anxiety and depression that result from your injury.
By definition, non-economic damages are subjective. They compensate for your own experience after you have suffered an injury, not finite financial expenses. This is a common sticking point with insurers in cases involving severe and life-changing injuries.
Insurance companies like to use their own methodology to measure pain and suffering in a personal injury case. In the case of a spinal cord injury, they will likely use the multiplier method. The per diem method of compensation generally applies to injuries with a set duration, but spinal cord injuries can last a lifetime.
The multiplier method takes your economic damages (especially your medical bills) and multiplies them by a number to reach your pain and suffering damages. In less serious personal injury cases, the multiplier will be lower. Spinal cord injuries may have the highest multiplier of practically any type of personal injury case because of the severity of the damage to your body. In an SCI case, The multiplier may be 3-5 times your direct damages. However, you can always expect the insurance company to attempt to under-compensate you for your pain and suffering.
If you cannot agree with the insurance company on the full extent of your pain and suffering damages, you will need to prove them in court. The burden of proof is on every personal injury claimant to show their damages.
You may not be the only one compensated for a spinal cord injury. Your spouse may be eligible for loss of consortium damages based on how your relationship may have changed because of your injury.
Now that you can see what you might include in your spinal cord injury lawsuit damages, you may be wondering how you will know the value of your claim now. After all, you will incur many of these expenses years into the future. It can pose a challenge when you need to negotiate a settlement with limited visibility into what the future may hold.
When you are dealing with a claim that is worth as much as an SCI injury, you should take your time before you make any major decisions. First, your prognosis may not be apparent right off the bat. Some SCI patients may regain some function over time through surgical procedures and intense rehabilitation. You should not file or settle a claim until you have reached the point of maximum medical improvement, so you will know the full extent of your injuries.
Further, you are making a decision now that will impact the rest of your and your family’s lives. Although you may critically need the money, it is worth taking the time to do everything within your power to get it right. The main thing you can do is seek help from a skilled injury attorney and be patient.
Not only does your lawyer provide value by negotiating a settlement with the insurance company or arguing your case to a jury, but they also help your case by working with the relevant experts to put a number on your accident damages. Your attorney can consult with several experts to figure out what the future may hold for you and what sort of money you may need.
These experts can include:
Knowing how much your claim is worth now is an absolute must. Once you sign a settlement agreement or get a jury award, you lose the legal ability to come back for more money in the future. In the meantime, your health insurance company may think it is off the hook for paying for future medical expenses since you have already received a lawsuit settlement. You also might run out of money that you will need for other aspects of your care or to compensate you for lost wages.
The truth is that you have some degree of control over how much your spinal cord injury lawsuit is worth. You are under no obligation to accept a settlement offer that pays you less than you deserve, nor should you even think about doing so.
Your case value is, in part, a function of how hard you negotiate a settlement with the defendant and their insurance company. Your case may be worth less if you take less. If the insurance company is not offering enough money to cover your damages, you should take the case to court and let a jury decide how much money you can get rather than accepting an offer.
You should consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after you have suffered a serious injury. Although you may not be in a position to do anything on your own due to both your injury and a lack of knowledge of the legal process, your lawyer can do the necessary work to move your claim forward. They can investigate the circumstances behind your accident and handle all the necessary details.
The sooner you contact an attorney, the quicker you can take steps toward beginning the legal process. The alternative is being vulnerable to insurance company tactics. Insurers do not care about what you are facing or the severity of your injuries. All you are is a cost to them because they will need to write a large check.
On the other hand, your attorney cares about the effects of your injuries, and they want you to move forward in the best position possible. This means obtaining the full compensation you need for the past and future costs of your spinal cord injury.