My clients who were injured in an automobile or other motor vehicle accident often ask: how much is a reasonable personal injury settlement amount? That is a very difficult question to answer and in typical attorney form, I can only answer “it depends.”
For a broader discussion of the value of a case, see my recent blog article entitled “How Much is my Case Worth?”. In short, it depends on several factors such as the severity of your injury, the amount of insurance there is, and what insurance company you are dealing with, among other factors.
Included in many personal injury settlement amounts are compensation for:
- Property damage – your vehicle but also your damaged cell phone, clothing etc.
- Pain and suffering – but how do you measure your pain and suffering?
- Lost wages – we will contact your employer to verify the amount of money you lost
- Mileage and other expenses – keep a mileage log for example
- Medical bills – In Illinois, you can recover for the total cost of your medical bills
- Loss of enjoyment – you lost time playing catch with your son or daughter due to your injury
- And more
In my practice, the primary reason my clients are limited in the amount they recover, is that the person who caused the accident has a small insurance policy. In the state of Illinois, the minimum policy is $25,000.00 and most people have just that. In addition, not all but many of my clients, unfortunately don’t have enough uninsured or underinsured (UM/UIM) insurance to protect themselves.
So how does that effect your settlement? Let’s look at two cases my office recently settled. In the first case, our client was able to tap into multiple policies and thus obtain an adequate recovery. In the second case, our client did not have a sufficient UIM policy and her recovery was thus limited.
- Bicycle accident settlement $93,000.00+
Our client was riding his bicycle when he was hit from behind. He went down and suffered a fractured wrist, transverse process fractures and lacerations, abrasions and contusions. The driver of the car that hit him only had a minimum insurance policy. However, our client had a large underinsured motorist policy. As such, we were able to recover against his own policy and obtain appropriate compensation for his injuries.
- Motorcycle accident settlement $100,000.00
Our client was the passenger on the back of her husband’s motorcycle. A car cut them off and they went down. Our client suffered a fractured wrist and an aggravation of a pre-existing injury – a spinal stimulator that was placed in her back was damaged and had to be replaced through surgery. The defendant had a $100,000.00 policy. However, based on the severity of injury, her pain and suffering and her medical bills, this case could have garnered a much larger settlement. However, our client did not have enough underinsured motorist protection. As such, our client was limited to the $100,000.00. Fortunately, we were able to negotiate down her medical bills in order to net enough to compensate her.
$100,000.00 sounds like an adequate personal injury settlement amount. However, medical bills and attorneys’ fees and costs are paid out of the settlement. As such, the net recovery is much smaller.
Often, when a defendant has a small insurance policy, clients want to sue the defendant personally for their injuries. That is an option, however, in most cases it is not practicable. Most people who have assets, have insurance to protect those assets. If the defendant has a small auto insurance policy, he/she probably doesn’t have many assets to protect.
You are injured in an auto accident and you file a lawsuit against the defendant. The defendant has a $50,000.00 auto insurance policy. You win a judgment of $100,000.00. The insurance company writes you a check for $50,000.00 and you try to collect against the defendant for the balance of $50,000.00. The defendant determines he cannot pay you. So, what does he/she do? File for bankruptcy. Practically speaking, that ends your case.
Consequently, in most cases, our clients are limited in their recovery to the amount of the defendant’s insurance policy.
In sum, it is difficult to determine what is a reasonable personal injury settlement amount. That determination is made on a case by case basis. Just because a friend or relative recovered a certain amount in his or her case, does not mean you will have the same experience.