Value = Economic Damages + Non-economic Damages
Every single case is different, but we can tell you what things are part of the economic damages and the non-economic damages:
The economic damages are easy. These are things that can typically be calculated with computer-like efficiency. We know the value of past medical bills, for example, because we can see the list of charges from the hospital. If a treating doctor testifies that the accident victim will likely need a back surgery, that doctor can provide a list of hospital and physician charges. The main criteria for economic damages is that they must be caused or necessitated by the negligence of the other driver.
One component of economic damages is the collateral source rule. In Maryland, it is public policy that a negligent driver should not reap the benefits of a victim’s circumstance. If a victim is hurt in an accident, and his brother performs the surgery at no charge; or his health insurance pays for the full amount of the surgery; or he has vacation time or sick time so he didn’t miss any money from work, the negligent driver would seem to reap the rewards of the victim’s good fortune or planning. In Maryland, however, that is not the case. The victim can still recover the full value of those services or expenses from the person who caused the car accident.
The non-economic damages are where things get complicated.
It can be difficult to define some of the items in the non-economic damages list. Most people refer to these things as “pain and suffering” damages. They cover a great deal of ground, including impairment (for example, the inability to walk) and disfigurement (scars). These things are resistant to exact calculations. What is the value of a two inch facial dog bite scar on a twelve year-old girl? What is the value of the same scar on a 55 year-old man? If someone had to drive to physical therapy three times a week for two months, what is the value of that inconvenience? And how do we relate to pain, which is experienced differently by different people?
These are the types of questions that victims, insurance adjusters, lawyers, judges and jurors must wrestle with. The reality is that there are no right answers. My answers to those questions are framed by my life experiences. That’s exactly what a judge would do, and that’s exactly what a jury of six would do, though the jurors would have to reach some sort of consensus, and they would have the benefit of the experiences of the other jurors.
That means that the same exact case probably has different values in different locations. A Baltimore City jury deciding an auto accident case is likely to have a different impression of the value as compared to a Montgomery County jury. The difference is often so striking, that many lawyers will tell you that the possible venue (where you can file a lawsuit) is the most important piece of information in determining case value. (Sidenote—in Maryland, you can usually file a lawsuit in either (1) the county where the accident happened; or (2) the county where the defendant resides).
Also, the value of the non-economic damages depends on the believability and credibility of the parties. If the plaintiff-victim is nice and personable, her claim probably has a higher value. Likewise, if the defendant (or sometimes the defendant’s lawyer) is mean-spirited and nasty, the plaintiff-victim’s case value is likely to go up.
One more caveat: cases with catastrophic damages, while they certainly have a higher “value,” are subject to a ceiling. The Maryland legislature long ago approved damage caps. This means, for example, someone injured in an automobile accident on January 1, 2012, can only recover the full value of his or her economic damages plus limited non-economic damages. The non-economic damages in that example cannot be higher than $755,000.00. It doesn’t matter if the victim was a 6 month-old baby who will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life because of the accident—the damage cap stays in place.
The other artificial limitation on case value is the available insurance. If there is a minimum $30,000 insurance policy, that is likely the full amount available to the victim. The lawyers can attempt to recover the negligent driver’s assets, but oftentimes there are none.
Questions about the value of your case? Give us a call for a free review at 443.850.4426, or send us a message online. Click here if you want to find out more about auto accidents.