“Woman receives $1 million in personal injury case.”
“Your personal injury claim may be worth millions.”
“Are you entitled to compensation?”
Have you seen headlines and television commercials like these? Most of us have — and if we are injured, and it’s someone else’s fault, it’s likely that they are quite compelling. After all, who wouldn’t want to receive a hefty seven-figure check?Before you quit your day job, though, be sure to call a personal injury lawyer in Corpus Christi because there are a few things that you should know about personal injury lawsuit settlements.
How Much Do Victims Really Get?
One of the most famous personal injury lawsuits ever involved McDonald’s and a cup of coffee. The story is familiar: A 79-year-old woman spilled a cup of hot coffee on her lap, and was severely burned. The case made headlines when a jury awarded her $2.86 million for her injuries, due to the restaurant’s neglecting to inform her that the coffee was much too hot (source Personal Injury Law Firm)
However, while the debate over the merit of the suit continues even today, several decades later, a key aspect of the case is less known: The victim never received millions. In fact, despite the jury’s decision, the judge in the case reduced the amount of punitive damages to $480,000. The victim appealed, and McDonald’s settled the case out of court for less than $600,000. And in the end, the victim only received a small percentage of that amount.
The McDonald’s case highlights a few important facts that anyone considering a personal injury case needs to know.
- Multi-million dollar payouts are rare. The simple fact is that few cases have that value, and the value of your settlement is determined by several factors. The court will look at the severity of your injury and whether it led to permanent impairment, as well as the amount of income you lost due to the injury and what has already been covered by insurance. Rarely do these factors add up to millions.
- There are two types of damages: Compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are meant to compensate the victim for the loss of income, pain and suffering, and expenses incurred due to the injury. These are the most common damages in personal injury cases, and are limited to the actual amount of loss.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are designed to penalize the defendant for actions that are reckless and/or malicious, and led to the injury. While all personal injury cases are based on the idea that the defendant was negligent and therefore responsible for the plaintiff’s injury, not all cases merit punitive damages. Therefore, it’s more likely that an individual case is only going to be limited to compensatory damages.
- Your award will be reduced by case costs. A successful personal injury case takes time, and requires an investment of resources. How much you must pay your attorney depends on a few factors, including the complexity of the case, if it goes to trial, the level of investigation required, and the experience and reputation of the attorney, among other factors. Typically, you can expect to pay anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent of your settlement in attorney’s fees; in some cases, you may be able to negotiate those fees in addition to your damages as well.
- It may take time to get paid. Receiving a judgement in your favor doesn’t mean you will walk out with a check. It can take time to get your money, and that the defendant doesn’t appeal a jury trial. If you settle out of court like most personal injury cases, and the defendant has insurance, you will most likely receive payment from the insurance company within a few weeks. If the defendant does not have insurance to cover the damages, or have enough insurance, it may take longer to receive payment, and it may come in monthly payments for several years.
What Else Should I Know?
Beyond tempering your expectations in terms of damages, it’s important that you understand how personal injury cases work.
Again, most personal injury cases never make it to court. Insurers are generally reluctant to go to court and leave these cases in the hands of juries that could potentially award an even bigger amount. However, it’s usually unwise to try to work with insurers in these cases without an attorney, since insurers are focused on reducing costs and will typically offer lower settlement amounts. You can reject settlement offers, and your attorney can advise you on the best way to proceed.
Personal injury law is complex, despite media reports making it seem simple and lucrative. If you have been injured, your best bet is to work with a qualified attorney who can help you navigate the process and get the best settlement possible.