• Personal Injury Awards: What Determines Value?
  • August 3, 2004 | Author: Amy Lea Drushal
  • Law Firm: Trenam, Kemker, Scharf, Barkin, Frye, O'Neill & Mullis Professional Association - Tampa Office
  • The most confusing aspect of personal injury law involves how a jury sets the amount of damages when evaluating a personal injury claim. Intrinsically, it is easier for people to understand an award of $500,000 in a business litigation context, where, for example, it is proven that the prevailing party lost two months of business due to the other party's actions. If the average profit for the preceding twelve months of business was $250,000 per month, then an award of $500,000 seems fair and logical. When you compare this with an award of $500,000 for someone who suffered a permanent injury to his or her back because of another's negligence, it is far less clear how a financial value was assigned.

    Personal injury awards are designed to place the injured person in the position that he or she was in prior to the accident. However, because we cannot reverse time and prevent the accident from occurring, the only alternative for an injured person is an award of money damages. Although determining the amount of such damages is not an exact science, there are three main areas a jury evaluates before determining what they believe is an appropriate award:

    • past and future medical bills;
    • past and future lost wages; and
    • past and future pain and suffering.

    Awards for past bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering include all damages that have accrued prior to the conclusion of the lawsuit. As for future awards, the jury takes into account how the accident will continue to affect the individual's life after the lawsuit is over.

    Juries make decisions regarding the value of past medical bills and lost wages based on records placed into evidence. This evidence of medical expenses and lost wages incurred prior to the trial helps the jurors determine what they believe is a fair and reasonable amount for future medical costs and lost wages as well. In addition, juries are aided in determining future medical bill and wage awards through the testimony of medical providers about the individual's likelihood of recovering to the level he or she was at prior to suffering the injury.

    Evaluating damages for pain and suffering is often the most challenging as it is impossible to place an exact figure on such damages. People experience pain in different ways, injuries are never the same, and some people heal more slowly or never recover from their injuries. In addition to hearing testimony from medical providers on this subject and considering their own life experiences, jurors are also asked to take into account an individual's ability to enjoy life to the same extent he or she did prior to the accident.

    In order to ensure that you are in a position to explain how an injury has affected your life it is important that:

    1. You maintain accurate records of the number of visits, the amount of time, and how much medical treatment is costing;
    2. You maintain accurate records of how much time from work the injury caused you to miss or if the injury has in any way affected your ability to perform your duties at work; and
    3. You keep a record or notebook documenting how the injury has affected your day to day life.

    Even with these records, personal injury awards are not an exact science. Maintaining these records and understanding the things a jury considers when reaching an award should place you in a better position to ensure that you are adequately compensated in the event you suffer an injury from the negligence of another.