What Is a Personal Injury Claim Really Worth?

People often incorrectly assume a personal injury lawsuit is an easy ticket to multi-million dollar damage awards. The reality is not quite so lucrative. Courts do not arbitrarily award damages. Nor are all damages the same. Judges and juries must follow certain guidelines in determining the type and amount of damages based on the particulars of a case.

Freeman v. Nguyen

Consider this recent decision by a federal judge in Brooklyn. A plaintiff successfully brought a personal injury lawsuit for damages arising from an accident caused by the defendant. The plaintiff asked the judge for $100,000 in damages. He received just under $37,000.

In this case, the victim is a New York City sanitation worker. While plowing a street in Brooklyn as part of his job, the victim's truck was caught and dragged 50 feet by a tractor trailer driven by the defendant. The victim suffered serious physical injuries as a result.

The victim sued the defendant in Brooklyn federal court. Although New York State law still governs these types of personal injury claims, a case like this is tried in federal court when the plaintiff and defendant are residents of different states. The defendant did not appear or contest the complaint, so a federal judge entered a default judgment in favor of the victim on the question of liability.

The judge still had to conduct a hearing to determine an award of damages. (Even if a defendant does not appear, a default judgment only applies to the issue of liability, not damages.) The judge had to consider the victim's medical expenses, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and the “loss of consortium” suffered by his wife, who was a co-plaintiff in the case.

The judge ultimately awarded the victim nothing for medical expenses. These expenses were covered by the victim's existing insurance and workers’ compensation benefits. This meant the defendant was not responsible for any of these costs.

Regarding loss of earnings, the judge awarded the victim $11,940. This was based on the fact the victim missed 199 days of work. Although he continued to receive his regular salary during this period, he did not receive a $60 per day “premium” for actually driving his work vehicle.

With respect to pain and suffering, there is no precise rule or calculation for such damages. The judge must simply consider all of the evidence with respect to (a) medical procedures endured, (b) the nature of the injury suffered, (c) emotional pain, and (d) loss of enjoyment of normal life activities. Based on the testimony of the victim and his wife, the judge here decided to award damages of $25,000 for pain and suffering.

Similarly, damages for “loss of consortium” do not follow an exact formula. Again, the judge had to look at the testimony from the victim and his wife. Here, the wife said the accident and its aftermath strained the marriage, as her husband “can no longer help her around the house like he used to and their sexual relations decreased.” Based on this testimony, the judge awarded damages of $5,000.

How Strong Is Your Case?

If you have been in an accident and are contemplating a lawsuit, it is important to consult with an experienced New York personal injury attorney. An attorney cannot only review the strength of your potential claim but offer a reasonable assessment of any potential damage award. Contact our office today if you would like to speak with an attorney right away.