Motor vehicle accidents impact injured people’s lives dramatically. After a serious collision on the road people are often physically injured, left without a vehicle, unable to work for a significant period of time and are required to travel to and from countless medical appointments. Over time, many accident victims become depressed, overwhelmed emotionally or overcome with stress when they get back behind the wheel of a car. For a person injured through no fault of their own, the inconveniences of recovery can be substantial. In the aftermath of a collision, it is important that you understand what damages are financially compensable in a personal injury claim and that you are able to articulate them completely. Failure to do so may result in less than full compensation when your claim resolves.
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, there is a model jury instruction that itemizes damages that can be claimed in a personal injury case. As a Virginia jury will be specifically instructed to consider these items when determining a financial award at the end of trial, insurance adjusters also consider them when negotiating a full and fair settlement offer prior to litigation. The following losses are compensable in a personal injury claim, provided they were caused by the negligence of the defendant:
(1) Any bodily injuries sustained and their probable duration – the injuries themselves and how long it takes before the injured person returns to their pre-accident state of health. What parts of the body were injured and how long will they take to heal;
(2) Any physical pain and mental anguish suffered in the past and that may be reasonably expected in the future – injuries and the recovery process, including physical therapy, is often exceedingly painful. In some cases that pain is permanent. Importantly, under Virginia law the pain is separate and distinct from the injury and should be considered independently when discussing appropriate value;
(3) Any inconvenience caused in the past and any that probably will be caused in the future – this wide-ranging category can include travel time to and from appointments, missed opportunities at work and even canceling a pre-planned family vacation. It can be exceedingly important to take the time to develop a list of inconveniences over time as some may not be immediately apparent;
(4) Any disfigurement or deformity and any associated humiliation or embarrassment – scars, whether from lacerations, surgery or burns as well as changes in bone structure in the wake of fractures often leave a permanent reminder of the collision and should be considered in addition to the injuries themselves;
(5) Any medical expenses incurred in the past and any that may be reasonably expected to occur in the future – a negligent motorist is responsible for compensating the injured party for the full value of medical bills that accrue in the wake of the accident. Whether or not the injured person has health insurance or paid a discounted rate to the medical provider is irrelevant under Virginia law;
(6) Any earnings lost as a result of being unable to work – often, those injured in motor vehicle collisions are forced to use all of their sick time or accrued leave. This time is compensable in a personal injury action. Importantly, if using all of this accrued time has a negative impact on a retirement plan or pension post-retirement, this too is compensable and should be calculated;
(7) Any loss of earnings and lessening of earning capacity, or either, that may reasonably be expected in the future – if seriously injured people are able to return to work at all, often it is not in the same role or capacity as they were in before the accident. Aside from the lost wages themselves, these changes in responsibility are also compensable under the law.
The goal in every personal injury claim is to obtain full and fair compensation for all of the damage caused by the negligent driver. These damages are complex, interconnected and require careful thought and deliberation before they are identified and properly articulated. If you or someone you know is injured through another person’s negligence, allow the experienced attorneys of Allen and Allen fight for ALL of the compensation you deserve. Personal injury claims are about much more than just medical bills.
About the Author: Charles L. “Litt” Allen is a personal injury lawyer with Allen & Allen and works out of their Richmond office. Since joining the firm in 1983, Charles has had extensive experience handling various types of personal injury cases.