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What Damages Can I Recover in a Personal Injury Settlement?

Nov 11, 2019 Brown Moore & Associates

On the episode of When Accidents Happen, Associate Attorney Jim Puritz welcomes Jon Moore, partner at Brown Moore & Associates to discuss the types of recoverable damages in a personal injury case.

Both economic damages and non-economic damages are recoverable for accident victims. In North Carolina, economic damages for medical bills are calculated based on what was paid or still needs to be paid on a bill. This may differ from state to state. Jim then examines how lost wages are calculated, proven, and used to maximize recovery. Jim wraps up the episode by addressing pain and suffering as recoverable injuries.

Key Moments From The Episode:

  • [1:10] – What are recoverable damages?
  • [2:45] – Economic damages
  • [5:00] — Uninsured people and medical bills
  • [6:19] – Lost wages
  • [9:09] – Pain and suffering
  • [10:00] – What is my case worth, and how do I prove it?

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When Accidents Happen is a podcast by Brown Moore and Associates, a personal injury law firm based out of Charlotte, NC. This podcast is for general information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for consulting an attorney. You should always consult an experienced personal injury attorney about your unique situation before making legal decisions. Visit our website for more online resources at brownmoorelaw.com, or better yet, call 704-335-1500 for a free initial intake interview so Brown Moore and Associates can evaluate your case.

Read Full Transcript

Speaker 1:[00:02]Chances are, you’re here because of an accident involving yourself or someone you love. And before the dust even settles, you’re dealing with an insurance company that doesn’t have your best interests at heart. You may be feeling overwhelmed. You may be feeling scared. Welcome to When Accidents Happen, a podcast brought to you by the attorneys of Brown Moore & Associates. With more than five decades of experience, our attorneys are here to guide you through these uncertain times and provide you with the information and answers you need today.
Jim Puritz:[00:37]Hello, this is Jim Puritz again. I was previously with you on our first podcast, and I’m very excited to be back here, and with me today is Jon Moore. Jon, thanks for joining us.
Jon Moore:[00:47]Hi, Jim. Thank you for having me.
Jim Puritz:[00:49]And today, we’re going to dive into one of the conversations that I frequently have, but really questions that are brought to me about, what are recoverable damages? And also, what am I looking at? What’s the end game? So, what are the type of damages that are recoverable for a client in an accident?
Jon Moore:[01:09]Sure. In a personal injury case, I tell clients that there are, broadly speaking, two buckets of damages. There’s economic damages and non-economic damages is the second bucket. Economic damages are those that we can put a hard number on. An example might be medical bills. Another example is wage loss. In other words, if somebody works for $20 an hour and they’ve missed a week worth of work, 40 hours a week, well you can do the multiplication there and you know what their wage loss is. And there’s the non-economic damages. That is something that there’s no formula that can tell you how much you’re going to get for that. It’s not anything that you can mathematically do. Those are if you make a recovery from an injury and you still have some type of permanent impairment that you have to live with for the rest of your life. That is something for which damages are payable.
Jon Moore:[02:06]In addition to that, many people have heard about pain and suffering damages. What that really is physical pain and mental suffering. So in other words, if somebody is lying awake staring at the ceiling at night, wondering how they’re going to pay rent or put food on the table because they’re out of work, that’s an example of a mental suffering damage. That is something that you can be compensated for.
Jim Puritz:[02:29]So let’s take a look at those economic damages. I’d like to ask you about that. Oftentimes, I know when I get a medical bill, I don’t ever see the number because my insurance takes care of it.
Jon Moore:[02:39]Sure.
Jim Puritz:[02:40]Is that something that comes into play here when my insurance pays the bill?
Jon Moore:[02:45]Yes. So in North Carolina, we have kind of a crazy way of looking at what you get in terms of a recovery for your medical bills. And the simple way to say it is that an injured victim is entitled to recover the amounts that he or she has paid to satisfy the bill, or the amounts that somebody else has paid to satisfy the bill. Or, if there’s still an amount remaining to be paid, they get to recover that amount. So any time somebody with insurance, and insurance could be just health insurance for your employment, it could be Medicare, it could be Medicaid. Any time they go to a medical provider or a hospital, the insurance is usually writing off a certain amount of that bill and not paying it.
Jon Moore:[03:31]You may see something on your insurance statement that says it’s contractual adjustment. So if I went to the doctor’s office and they billed $100, and the insurance paid $60 and I had to pay $20, and then $20 gets written off, all you can recover in your injury case is $80. All you can recover is the amount that was paid to satisfy the bill or still needs to be paid.
Jim Puritz:[03:57]So even though the procedure, the treatment costs $100, only $80 of it is something that would be recoverable during the claim.
Jon Moore:[04:06]Correct, in an injury case. And that’s something that when we are negotiating claims before filing a suit, that’s something that the insurance companies are looking at. Because they know that if we do file a suit and head towards trial, that when we are in trial and in a courtroom, all we can introduce, even though the bill may have been $100, the bill was satisfied by the payment of $80. And so all that we can introduce is that $80 number.
Jim Puritz:[04:36]And I think we talked about this in an earlier episode, in fact I’m pretty sure we did, when we talked about whether you should contact your insurer and let them know that there’s a bill out there. What happens if insurance isn’t taking care of the bill, and the hospital alone hasn’t sought insurance? How does that affect the eventual recovery?
Jon Moore:[04:55]Sure. The hospital has a right to essentially seek a lean on your recovery. And a lean, I know we’ve talked about it before, is the hospital will say, “Well, we want to get paid out of your recovery at the end of the day that you get in your injury claim.” And a lot of hospitals want to do that because they get paid more money that way, to be quite honest. And the reason why is because they don’t have to take that contractual adjustment that an insurance company will do. So in other words, they will get the full $100. And a hospital who does that cannot make the injured victim pay upfront, they have to wait until the end of the claim.
Jon Moore:[05:37]And it’s kind of a gamble for the hospital because if the injured victim’s claim doesn’t pan out well, and that person had health insurance, well, the hospital is out of luck because they can’t go and try to get that money back from the injured victim. So it’s sort of a gamble that the hospital is making when they want to do a lean, and in our example using $100, that then is the number that the insurance company is looking at. And that is the number that would come out in trial, is that full $100 amount.
Jim Puritz:[06:05]You also mentioned something, one of the baskets you called, for lost wages. So let’s say someone has a job, they get in an accident, and they can’t work for a month. Is that something they can seek to have recovered during the claim?
Jon Moore:[06:19]Sure, and a lot of clients may use sick days or use paid time off. But to me, and I imagine you probably feel the same way, that kind of has value. I’d rather be sitting on the beach somewhere with my paid time off rather than trying to recover, so that has a value. So what is the value of that? It’s whatever the person thinks their time is worth. And they’ve made that determination based upon the job they had, and they’re saying, “My time is worth $15 an hour.” Or, if it’s a salaried employee, then we can figure out and break that down on some type of periodic basis, weekly, monthly, however. But that is something that a person is entitled to get a recovery for, is the wages that they’ve lost or the value of their sick days or paid time off that they’re having to take.
Jim Puritz:[07:04]A lot of my clients, they have nontraditional jobs. They maybe are independent contractors, they drive Ubers, they’re not necessarily salaried employees.
Jon Moore:[07:14]So how do you show what the wage loss is to those people?
Jim Puritz:[07:18]Well, there’s always, usually always going to be away. Some people file 1099s, and we can use that and other tax documents. We can also just put their pay stubs together during periodic periods. Or, we can ask for an affidavit from their employer. Here’s how much they get paid over a set period of time, here’s how long they were out of work, and here’s what they’d be entitled to.
Jon Moore:[07:40]Yeah. I also find it’s helpful, and unfortunately this doesn’t happen as much as we would like, but if they have really good, detailed records of what their pay is if they’re self employed, for instance. I know not everybody has that, but if you’re one of those people who is self employed, it’d be helpful to us to be able to look at that type of documentation.
Jim Puritz:[08:03]Sometimes, it’s a situation where someone’s paid more in a cash business, a nontraditional job. Some people refer to it as often under the table, so to speak. Is that something you can seek recovery for?
Jon Moore:[08:15]You can. It may not always be in the best interest to do so, and I know you say sometimes. Well, I’ll say it happens more than sometimes where people are paid in cash, and I understand that. It’s the way the economy works. But in those circumstances, it’s a conversation I have with the client because you are certainly entitled, and the law allows you to make a claim for that. However, you’ve got to be prepared for the attack you’re going to get from the other side, especially in the courtroom, as it relates to just not paying your fair share of taxes. And so a lot of times, even though it is a claim that we could make, we choose not to for strategic reasons.
Jim Puritz:[08:57]And the last basket we mentioned, at least for today, would be physical pain and mental suffering. What type of evidence is usually… or, what type of injury do you mean by physical pain coming off a car accident?
Jon Moore:[09:09]Sure. Physical pain coming after a car collision, it could be anything, just a, I’ve got pain in my back as a result of the collision. Or, it could be somebody fractured a bone and they have the pain associated with that. Pain is usually documented through a person’s medical records. Doctors are always asking what the pain is and where the pain is, and that is something that we can rely upon in medical records, physical therapy records, to demonstrate, hey, this is the type of pain our client had. This is how long the pain went for.
Jim Puritz:[09:44]How do you put a dollar figure to something like that?
Jon Moore:[09:46]Well, you really can’t. That’s a great question, and it’s interesting you bring that up because one of the questions people always have right at the beginning when they come into our office, and I’ll bet you get this too, is, “Well, what’s my claim worth?” And the answer I always give is, “I don’t know.” And I don’t know that they’re necessarily… that’s not the answer they’re looking for, but when they understand that they’re coming in here and they’re still making a recovery from their claim, I don’t know how much the claim is worth. Or, they’re still making the recovery from their injury, I believe is what I should have said.
Jon Moore:[10:16]But the pain and suffering is not subject to anything, it’s just something that we have to do the best we can to illustrate. And it can be photos the illustrate it. It is oftentimes testimony from their friends, their neighbors, their coworkers, their family members. Sometimes it’s testimony from themselves. But it’s really something that when you go into a courtroom and there’s 12 different people on each jury panel, you never know what you’re going to get.
Jim Puritz:[10:43]Yeah, that’s a good point. Oftentimes, and we all get… I get the question always, “What’s my claim worth?” I’m sure every attorney in this field gets that question. And the answer I often give is either, what a jury will award you, what a jury will say. And then the other way of looking at it is, it’s my job to get the most for you until the other side says, “No.” And then we’ll make a decision what to do next.
Jon Moore:[11:06]Yeah, I guess I could say, when they ask that question, I could say, “Well, whatever you’re willing to take for it.”
Jim Puritz:[11:12]All right, well thank you for coming in today and thank you for helping to explain what people can hopefully get from a claim in a personal injury lawsuit.
Jon Moore:[11:20]Thank you for having me, Jim.
Speaker 1:[11:23]We appreciate you joining us on this episode of When Accidents Happen. To learn more about today’s discussion or to tell us your story, visit our website at Brownmoorelaw.com. That’s B-R-O-W-N-M-O-O-R-E-L-A-W.com, or call 704-335-1500. The insights and views presented in When Accidents Happen are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. The information presented is not a substitute for consulting with an attorney, nor does tuning into this podcast constitute an attorney client relationship of any kind. If you’re ready for the personal attention you deserve, contact Brown Moore & Associates today.