Throughout history, various justice systems have used diverse practices of repaying or satisfying those who suffered losses due to the negligence or wrongful acts of others. For example, many people are familiar with the ancient retributive principle of “an eye for an eye.”
Currently, United States civil courts handle such disputes and attempt to assign an appropriate dollar amount of compensation for physical, emotional and monetary losses. Such cases grab headlines when remuneration reaches the millions and everyday citizens naturally wonder about the size of the average personal injury settlements.
The Difficulty of Determining Accurate Figures
Various factors make calculating average personal injury settlements difficult, if not impossible. The unique circumstances of each claim contribute to the outcome. For example, personal injury disputes involve numerous scenarios, including:
- Traffic accidents
- Animal attacks
- Medical malpractice
- Boating accidents
- Workplace injuries
- Slips and falls
When a case proceeds to trial, the local laws, competency of legal counsel and personalities of the judge or jury can play into whether a defendant decides to settle or fight the issue in court. Those elements also figure into the size of a personal injury award.
The data shows that many cases settle privately and do not reach a trial verdict. While trials are part of the public record, settlements may have confidentiality clauses. As such, the specific figures are not available to the public.
Estimations About What Plaintiffs Often Receive in Damages
Anecdotal evidence can provide insight into the thousands of dollars a personal injury victim might receive, whether through a settlement or verdict. The thriving Utah law firm of Siegfried and Jensen reports a 97% success rate over more than 35,000 cases.
In other words, approximately 34,000 of those claims led to compensation for the plaintiff. The firm reports that such victories total over $1.2 billion for their clients. Thus the average for the firm puts settlements or awards at over $35,000 per case. Understandably, some cases are much higher while others are lower than that amount.
Other studies record additional statistics for the U.S. as a whole:
- The median award was $31,000 for all types of personal injury cases and $16,000 for motor vehicle accidents.
- Medical malpractice claims had an average award of $679,000.
- Product liability cases had a median payout of $748,000.
- The median award for premises liability cases was $90,000.
No one can promise a plaintiff a specific number for the amount of an award in a personal injury case or private settlement. However, data shows that verdicts and settlements can easily reach thousands of dollars.
The Typical Timeline of Settlements
Most estimates show that fewer than 5% of cases go to trial. Those cases that continue to a verdict do not always end in the plaintiff’s favor.
A writer for Forbes Advisor found that the odds are 50/50 for winning a case. Additionally, a judge may dismiss a case. The mutually agreed-upon outcome of a settlement can be quicker and less costly for both sides.
Filing the Claim
When filing a personal injury claim, keeping records of all medical bills and other expenses related to the incident is vital. A person should also keep records of any lost wages from missed work or potential future loss of earning capacity due to the injury. With this information, an attorney can work with a client to estimate the potential amounts of compensation.
The lawyer then files the claim with the appropriate court. The time it takes to file depends on how quickly both parties can prepare their documents and submit them for review.
Agreeing on a Settlement
A settlement can occur at any time in the trial process. A defendant may offer to settle before the court convenes or during the process of a trial if recognizing that doing so would be beneficial. Even after a verdict, a plaintiff may push to settle to avoid a defendant’s appeal, which can prolong the process.
Both parties must agree on an amount before any payout. The process can take weeks to months, depending on how quickly both sides can arrive at an agreeable solution. If such a decision cannot occur within the statute of limitations for filing a claim in court, a plaintiff may have no other recourse than to continue with a trial.
Once reaching an agreement, the court issues an order that outlines what each party must do for the release of the settlement amount. The timeline for this process depends on how quickly both parties can comply with all terms and conditions set forth by the court’s order.
After meeting all conditions, the defendant may release settlement funds in a matter of weeks or even days. Delays can occur depending on how quickly the court processes and approves information. Banks often hold large deposits for a waiting period to confirm the transaction’s legitimacy, so a plaintiff may have to wait some days after receipt to access funds.
Factors That Influence the Size of a Settlement
A crucial factor for determining the size of a settlement or award is the total damages. Economic damages are losses that have a specific dollar value. Such harm includes:
- Property replacement or repair
- Lost income and wages
- Past and upcoming medical expenses
- Lost support or services
A plaintiff needs to carefully maintain records to demonstrate unassailable proof of economic damages after another’s negligence.
Noneconomic damages involve intangible items that affect a person’s quality of life. These damages can be:
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering
- Permanent disfigurement
Some states have caps on the size of an award for specific noneconomic damages, including Utah. The law places different limits on medical malpractice claims depending on the date of the incident. The state treasurer has the authority to adjust the limits for inflation.
Judges may also assign punitive damages to punish a defendant for maliciousness or gross negligence. Utah currently has no caps on punitive damages.
While such caps apply to verdicts and not settlements, defendants will be aware of the limits. Such factors will likely affect the settlement offer. However, the potential harm to an organization’s reputation can compel a defendant to make an impressive proposal in an attempt to keep details of the incident out of a trial and away from the public record.
The Potential Benefits of Legal Counsel
Legal representation can prove to be invaluable assistance during proceedings. A lawyer typically has more experience negotiating with liable parties, advocating for client rights and handling the paperwork to finalize an equitable agreement. For example, a lawyer can help a client to avoid missing any relevant information that supports a higher value for damages.
Law firms that focus on personal injury claims can strategically approach the settlement process with knowledge of relevant case law and the anatomy of settlements that may apply to an individual’s situation. Such support can be priceless when facing an insurance company or business with an intimidating legal team.
Competent Counsel for Pursuing a Settlement
Those who believe that the negligence of another person or entity entitles them to compensation likely desire some support to reach a fair settlement or verdict. The law firm of Siegfried and Jensen has over three decades of serving residents of Utah.
Our firm takes care of all the stressful paperwork and phone calls related to our clients’ cases. We also help them find solutions to get back on their feet after a painful injury. Give us a call today–we look forward to speaking with you.