Personal Injury Settlements: Myths vs. Reality
Brian White | December 19, 2020 | Personal Injury
In law, a personal injury describes any damage done to someone’s body, mind, or emotions. We all sustain injuries at some point in our lives—perhaps as a result of car accidents, slip & falls, dog bites, or tattoo infections—and sometimes, they’re not our fault. That’s where personal injury lawyers come in, helping people recover damages for the harm someone caused them.
There are many types of personal injury cases and generalizations about the field that are often misguided. Here are a few common myths you may have heard about personal injury law and the reality behind them.
Myth: Personal injury claims are exaggerated, harmful to businesses, make the injured person unnecessarily rich, and often lack merit.
Reality: The personal injury cases that are covered in the news are anomalies, but because they receive the most attention, the public has started associating personal injury cases with shocking headlines of people getting millions of dollars in settlements for seemingly minor inconveniences. In extreme cases that receive national recognition, there’s usually more to the story than people realize, which helps explain why an injury amounted to such large damages.
More often than not, personal injury claims get resolved without the public ever hearing a word. That’s because the details aren’t very juicy or newsworthy. Personal injury law isn’t about taking advantage of the legal system and squeezing every last penny out of the defendant; it’s about relieving the financial burden of a person who’s suffered injuries by holding the responsible party accountable.
In order to bring a personal injury claim, you need a lot of evidence—if a case didn’t have merit, an attorney wouldn’t go through with it.
Myth: Personal injury settlements give the claimant way more money than they’re actually entitled to based on their injuries.
Reality: There are two types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are what a person who is injured receives to help them recover from the harm caused. Most personal injury claims only seek to recover compensatory damages because the goal of the claimant isn’t to make a profit—they just want money to help restore their losses.
If you’ve ever heard of a payout that seems way too high given the severity of the claimant’s injuries, it’s likely that they received punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are collected as punishment when the responsible party acted recklessly or maliciously. Say your surgeon shows up drunk to work and botches the procedure. They weren’t just negligent; they were knowingly reckless with your safety and should be fined for their poor judgment—that’s cause for punitive damages, and if granted, the total payout will appear larger than one might expect.
In reality, punitive damages are very rarely sought and even less commonly collected. That being said, when a plaintiff does receive punitive damages, it’s often part of a dramatic case that catches the public’s attention.
Limits to Large Payouts
Myth: There’s no limit to what a claimant can receive in a personal injury case.
Reality: Personal injury claims fall under tort law, which is designed to restore an injured person to their pre-accident state both physically and financially. While it’s true that payouts vary by case and sometimes amount to large numbers, they’re calculated very methodically and are always determined to be the fairest monetary representation of damages caused. Texas doesn’t have a cap on economic damages for an injury, but that doesn’t mean an attorney will be able to secure a million-dollar settlement for a broken arm.
Class Action Lawsuits
Myth: One plaintiff gets all the money with large payouts.
Reality: Often, when the public hears of settlements in the millions or even billions, it’s the result of a class action lawsuit, meaning several plaintiffs are involved. In class action scenarios, people who sustained similar injuries from the same responsible party band together to file one large suit instead of a bunch of separate suits.
A settlement in a class action lawsuit is generally larger than a settlement in an individual lawsuit because it’s making up for damages caused to several plaintiffs. However, after the time the money is divvied up between everyone involved, individual plaintiffs are unlikely to walk away rich.
The Value of a Personal Injury Case
Myth: Personal injury lawyers don’t understand what my damages are worth.
Reality: It’s hard to put a price tag on personal injuries. Medical bills and lost income are quantifiable, but assigning a numeric value to damages like emotional trauma gets tricky. That’s what attorneys are for: determining the cost of damages and ensuring that you’re sufficiently compensated for them.
The value of an injury depends on several factors:
- The nature and severity of the injury
- The medical treatment required for recovery
- The amount of time you are unable to work as a result
- Whether you’ve been disfigured or suffered disability from the injury
- Whether the injury has affected your mental health or relationships
- The amount of evidence you can present
- The role you played in the accident
People who have been injured are sometimes unaware of the extent to which they can be reimbursed for any physical, emotional, or financial damages, and they doubt lawyers who say they may be able to collect a significant amount.
On the flip side, people who have been injured sometimes have unrealistic expectations of how much money they can walk away from a lawsuit with. Unwilling to consider that their situation may not qualify for the large payout they wanted, they turn away any lawyer who challenges them.
The truth is, while nobody can guarantee an exact return for damages, personal injury lawyers are trained to get a sense of what’s fair to expect and what isn’t. An attorney may disagree with the value of your claim, but it doesn’t mean they’re against you—they just want to manage expectations from the get-go.