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For the injured

Can You Trust a Realistic Settlement Calculator?

realistic settlement calculator

If you run a quick search on the internet, you’ll find that there are multiple settlement calculators available. However, how realistic are these settlement calculators? The answer is simple: while they may offer a basic understanding of the compensation you or a loved one may be entitled to, these calculators often fail to capture the complexity of personal injury claims. Today, we’ll discuss why the so-called “realistic settlement calculator” can be misleading and what to do instead to get a more accurate evaluation of your claim.

Basics of Settlement Calculators

Settlement calculators are convenient for a quick estimate of your potential compensation. You simply enter details like medical expenses and lost wages and you get an estimated settlement amount instantly. 

However, these tools use general formulas and miss the unique aspects of your case. They can’t differentiate between different injuries and circumstances, which is a major factor when calculating personal injury settlements. 

Factors Considered When Computing Settlements

Your personal injury settlement involves more than just adding up expenses. It’s about evaluating pain and suffering and things like emotional distress, which are highly subjective elements of the settlement. 

How do you expect the so-called realistic settlement calculator to judge the value of your pain, anxiety, or suffering? Typically, the following factors are considered when computing settlements:

Medical Expenses

The cornerstone of most settlement calculations is the cost of medical care. This includes your past medical bills and projected future medical expenses. A lawyer’s insight is vital here to ensure every medical cost is accounted for, including long-term therapy or rehabilitation.

Lost Wages and Earning Capacity

Your settlement should cover any wages lost due to your injury. More importantly, if your injury affects your future earning capacity, this potential loss must be evaluated. Legal experts can help quantify these losses, often consulting economic experts to guarantee accuracy.

Pain and Suffering

Quantifying pain and suffering is a complicated task. That’s because it’s subjective and varies widely from case to case. You need to be able to prove the mental anguish caused by the injury deserves or is equivalent to a specific amount. Again, a personal injury attorney can provide a fair evaluation of these non-economic damages, significantly increasing the settlement amount. 

Property Damage

If there’s property damage involved, such as in a car accident, this will also factor into your settlement. Your attorney can ensure that the cost of repair or replacement is accurately reflected in the amount you ask for. 

Comparative Negligence

Determining liability is a refined process. For example, depending on yoru jurisdiction, in cases where the fault is shared, your settlement can be reduced based on your degree of responsibility. 

Let’s say the court rules that the defendant is 90% at fault while the plaintiff is 10% at fault. In such a case, the settlement may be reduced accordingly to keep things fair. So, if the plaintiff won the case and was awarded $100,000 as a verdict, the amount would be reduced by 10% to reflect their percentage of fault. 

This means they’ll only remain with $90,000 as the award. Part of the remaining amount will go into settling the attorney’s fees and other legal expenses before handing over the remainder to the plaintiff. 

⚖️ PRO TIP: Maryland, Alabama, The District of Columbia, Virginia, and North Carolina all follow the contributory negligence rule. Here, if the plaintiff is found to be at fault, even by one percent, they automatically lose their right to recover damages. 

Insurance Policy Limits

The defendant’s insurance policy limits can also impact your settlement. Lawyers are skilled in identifying potential sources of compensation, including uncovering additional policies that may contribute to a higher settlement.

Punitive Damages

In cases of extreme negligence or recklessness leading up to the injury, punitive damages may be awarded, usually upon the attorney’s request. These are intended to punish the defendant and discourage similar behavior. 

Why Settlement Calculators Are Not Realistic

Let’s now delve into the details of how settlement calculators work and why you shouldn’t trust them to accurately evaluate you claim. 

1. Ignoring Legal Distinctions

A glaring issue with these calculators is their tendency to ignore legal distinctions. Personal injury law applies differently depending on the circumstances of each case, and these differences can majorly impact your case’s outcome. Think about statutes of limitations or fault laws as examples; all of these critical details are often missed by these online tools.

There’s also the issue of legal precedents. Settlement calculators may be outdated when it comes to current rates applied by courts for personal injury. 

For context, some courts may adjust their awards to align with factors such as inflation, which means that damages may be a matter of citing legal precedents. For example, a 2019 case may set a minimum of $10,000 of punitive damages, but a recent 2023 case has allowed punitive damages of as much as $20,000. An outdated settlement calculator may still refer to the 2019 case, putting you at a disadvantage.

2. Over-simplification of Personal Circumstances

Every personal injury case is unique, and a calculator can’t understand the small distinctions of your health or job’s impact. It’s essential to remember that these tools can’t grasp the complexity of individual situations, leading to inaccurate estimates.

Don’t forget that there’s an overly human element to establishing a personal injury case. Non-economic damages need to be substantiated to convince the court to award the amount asked for. This is something a calculator simply cannot take into consideration when arriving at a settlement.

3. Motivation of Insurance Companies

Insurance companies play a huge role in personal injury settlements. They have their strategies and tactics to minimize payouts. In many cases, the insurance company will accept the liability of the client but will contest the amount you ask for. There’s also the element of pressure with insurance companies where they try to get you to sign the release as quickly as possible.

The insurance company will refer you to the settlement calculator to prove that their offer is sound and fail, hoping you’ll agree to a settlement immediately. However, without proper computation, relying solely on the statements of the insurance company can leave you at a disadvantage.

4. Computing for Inflation

A personal injury settlement can be paid out in two ways: in lump sum or in installments. In either case, the settlement should consider inflation, especially if it would go towards medical payments. 

A settlement calculator may have a hard time properly accounting for this factor. As a result, the money you receive in the future may no longer be enough to cover your medical costs when the time comes.

Legal professionals typically use a Personal Injury Discount Rate (PIDR), which assumes a rate of inflation. This helps ensure that the settlement will be able to keep up with the risk of inflation in the future.

5. Controversial Personal Injury Settlement Cases

Personal injury law is often unpredictable and relying solely on tools like settlement calculators cannot capture the full extent of complex legal scenarios. 

Take, for instance, the case of Terrence Dickinson, who robbed a house but was trapped in the garage on his way out. He managed to survive on dog food and Pepsi for eight days trapped in the property. He sued the homeowner and actually won a settlement of $500,000.

Another interesting case is the failed suicide attempt of a woman in New York. She laid down on the subway track, but instead of killing her, the train merely caused her serious injuries. She then sued the city and won $14.1 million.

All of these scenarios defy the conventional parameters set by settlement calculators, which only consider basic factors like injury and severity of lost wages. However, unique legal arguments can really turn a case around in favor of any party.

What Is the Purpose of a Settlement?

A settlement is meant to end the dispute so that both parties can save time and resources in trying to settle the problem. With a settlement, there is no need to refer the case to the court as both parties essentially agree on the amount needed to satisfy the plaintiff’s demands. 

What Is the Formula for Settlement Calculation?

While there’s no universal formula, settlements often consider medical costs, lost income, pain and suffering, and punitive damages, if applicable. A settlement calculator is often used as an initial estimate. However, the input of a seasoned lawyer is best when pinning down the final amount asked for in the settlement.

What Is an Example of a Settlement Value?

A standard settlement might total $100,000, covering $40,000 in medical bills, $20,000 in lost wages, and $40,000 for pain and suffering. This amount may also be paid in a lump sum or installments. 

How Long Before You Get a Settlement Paid Out?

It takes months to receive your settlement payout as it goes through several stages. It starts from the moment you file a claim and ends only when a settlement agreement has been reached. 

Typically, however, there’s a negotiation stage where your attorney will talk with the insurance company to arrive at a specific amount. If an agreement is reached between both parties, the insurance company will release a check without going to trial. However, if both parties cannot agree to a settlement, the case might proceed to court. 

Getting the Help of a Legal Professional

A good personal injury lawyer brings not just legal knowledge but also negotiation skills. They’re skilled in interpreting state laws and using legal precedents to benefit your case. Their expertise offers a comprehensive and personalized assessment, ensuring a tailored approach that’s impossible for online calculators.

Finally, while online settlement calculators provide a basic estimate, they fall short of giving a realistic view of a personal injury settlement. 

Written by
Serah Waweru

A graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, Serah Waweru is a personal injury and immigration attorney based in Tacoma, Washington. Her law firm serves clients in Washington and all over the United States. Serah has always been passionate about the law; she served as the Vice President of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Student Bar Association and vice president of the university's Black Law Students Association. Attorney Serah Waweru is also a proud member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Washington State Bar Association.

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