A questions that frequently comes up when talking to potential clients of the firm is “what is the difference between a ‘soft tissue’ issue and a more serious injury”? The reason this distinction is so important is because the type of injury you suffered will directly impact the amount of damages you can recover.
As we have previously discussed, there are four elements to a negligence claim for personal injuries. And one of the most important elements of a personal injury claim is that you suffered some form of compensable harm. You may have a rock-solid claim in all other respects – there is clear liability, direct causation, etc., but if your injuries were minor, then your personal injury claim may fall flat on it’s face.
If you sustained soft-tissue injuries in your accident, such as a whiplash or back strain, then the insurance company is not likely to pay as much to settle your claim, and in fact they may not want to pay much more than your out-of-pocket expenses (i.e. special damages).
However, if on the other hand you suffered a more serious injury, such as a broken bond, herniated disc, severe laceration, etc., then the insurance company will be much more likely to not only pay your special damages, but an additional amount for your pain and suffering as well. This is because these types of injuries are more severe, painful, and the effects may be long-term.
The purpose of this article is to review the differences between soft-tissue injuries and more severe injuries such as broken bones or herniated discs, so that you can have an understanding of how we will negotiate with the insurance company in each of these situations.
Personal Injury Damages
As we discussed in this article, damages amounts to the financial compensation that you can receive for the injuries you sustained as a result of someone (or something) else’s negligence. The damages you receive will vary depending on the nature and extent of your injuries. Here is a list of some of the more common personal injury damages:
- Medical Bills incurred while treating your injuries (even if those bills were paid by your Med Pay policy);
- Out-of-pocket expenses related to your injuries, such as tolls, mileage, parking, medical devices, etc.;
- Lost income from time off work as a result of your injuries;
- Reduction in your overall earning capacity as a result of your injuries;
- Adjustments or disability accommodations that must be made to your home and/or your vehicle;
- Mental anguish that you have suffered; and,
- Loss of companionship and support as a result of your accident.
There is a certain art form to negotiating a personal injury settlement with an insurance company. If you ask for too much money, the insurance company will not take you seriously and flat-out deny your claim. If you ask for too little, you run the risk of devaluing your claim and leaving money on the table.
So what is the proper way to evaluate a personal injury claim and determine an appropriate starting point for your settlement negotiations?
As a starting point, you need to be realistic about what your claim is worth. You can’t ask an insurance company for a 6-figure settlement when all you did was sprain your ankle in the accident. This will be a non-starter for the adjuster and they will know that they can’t take you seriously. Instead, you need to enter the settlement negotiations with a strong understanding of what your claim is actually worth, along with documentation to back up your numbers.
One of the best ways to understand the value of your claim is to categorize your injuries as either soft-tissue injuries or serious injuries.
Soft-tissue injuries, in general, are injuries to your muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Additional injuries that qualify as minor are slight bruising and scrapes, minor strains, small burns and back injuries that do not require surgery. Some of these injuries are more painful than others. Strains and bruising may cause you some mild to severe discomfort for a couple of weeks, but will quickly remedy themselves. Other soft-tissue injuries, such as back injuries, can be significantly more painful and long-lasting.
The amount of money you receive in your personal injury settlement will depend on the amount of actual pain you experienced and the documentation you have to back up your claims. The more treatment you received, as well as other financial losses you may have suffered, the more likely it is that the insurance company will pay you a larger settlement. As a general rule, you should not expect the insurance company to pay you much more than 2-3 times your special damages for pain and suffering if you only suffered a soft-tissue injury.
Serious or “hard” injuries frequently range from broken bones and significant scarring, to loss of limbs, brain injuries, and back injuries that require surgery. Whenever you suffer these type of injuries that may not only require a surgery or extended stay in the hospital, but also significant time off of work, then you are much more likely to receive a larger settlement from the insurance company.
When injuries are more severe like this, the amount of money you can receive as pain and suffering may only be limited by the amount of insurance that is available. However, to claim the limits of an insurance policy in this way, you are likely to need a lawyer who can advocate on your behalf. Even if you don’t have a lawyer, you will still need to back up your claims and settlement demand with documentation, including:
- A copy of the police report and witness statements;
- Medical records and letters from your health care providers (including mental health providers, if applicable);
- Bills and receipt for all out-of-pocket expenses you may have incurred;
- A journal of how your day-to-day life has changed as a result of your accident (and if appropriate, you may want to video-tape your “new normal”);
- Pay stubs and a letter from your employer detailing your inability to work and the amount of wages you lost as a result of your accident.
Your Personal Injury Claim is Unique
Every personal injury claim is unique – no two injuries are exactly the same. For that reason, it is impossible to assign a specific and precise value to your injuries. The bottom line is that you need to convince either an adjuster or a jury that your claim is worth the amount that you are seeking. The more evidence you can provide in the form of medical records and expert testimony, the more likely you are to recover a higher settlement amount from the insurance company.
Here are a few things for you to keep in mind when you begin the process of evaluating a proper settlement amount for your claim:
- Did you suffer a soft-tissue injury or a “hard” injury?
- Is there any question that the other party is responsible for your injuries?
- Did you contribute in any way to causing the accident?
- What is the total amount of your special damages?
- How much of a pain and suffering multiplier should you use in calculating your non-economic damages?
If you are unsure about what your claim may be worth, or you just want a lawyer to look over your file and let you know if you are on the right track, feel free to call our office at (919) 883-4861 for a free case evaluation. Over or undervaluing your claim could cost you much more money in the long run than reaching out to a lawyer before you initiate your settlement negotiations.
When to Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for Help
While we recommend that anyone who is injured in an accident call us, we also recognize that many client’s would rather handle things on their own. And for many soft-tissue injuries, representing yourself may be appropriate. However, if you or a loved one suffered more significant injuries, getting a personal injury lawyer involved early in the process will increase the odds that you are able to maximize your recovery.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to negotiate with an insurance adjuster if the injuries suffered were considered “catastrophic”. Catastrophic injuries are those that result in significant long-term disabilities, rehabilitation, or that even resulted in a death.
If you have a family member who suffered a catastrophic injury or died as a result of the accident, then your number one job should be to take care of yourself, your loved one, and your family. Do NOT talk to the insurance company or sign any paperwork. The fact that the insurance company may even attempt to negotiate with you in the recent aftermath of such an accident is despicable. When you are ready, get your file together and call a personal injury lawyer who can begin the process of evaluating your claim and helping you to prepare your case for settlement or trial.
Return to the Personal Injury Claim Guide
If you have a question for us, you can submit it confidentially online by clicking here. You can also call The Hart Law Firm at (919) 883-4861. We are happy to speak to you and answered any detailed questions you may have.