If you got into a motorcycle accident as a rider or a passenger, you're probably wondering how much your potential claim might be worth. In this article, we'll look at common factors that will affect the value of any claim you decide to make.
To value a motorcycle accident case, you have to consider two things: liability and damages. Liability means who was at fault for the accident. If there is no liability, either because the person who hit you was not negligent, or because you simply can’t prove that the other driver was negligent, your case will not be worth very much. This is because it is always the plaintiff’s burden of proving that the defendant was negligent. So, if the other driver was not negligent, he or she doesn't owe you anything. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Vehicle Accident.)
Damages has to do with the injuries and other losses that you suffered in connection with the accident. The more significant the injury, the higher the amount of compensable injury damages.
Let’s look at a couple of examples to see how, in general, liability and damages work together to affect the value of a motorcycle accident case.
Let’s say that you were rear-ended while you are standing still at a red light waiting for the light to change, but that you didn’t get hurt, and your motorcycle didn't incur any damage. The person who hit you was clearly negligent -- rear-ending someone is a pretty clear cut case. But if you didn’t get hurt and you didn't suffer any property damage, you did not suffer any compensable damages, and so you would have no case. You might be able to settle for a very small amount, simply for your trouble, but nothing more than a nominal sum.
Let’s now take the opposite example. Let’s say that you were involved in a motorcycle accident in which you suffered very serious damages, but that the driver of the other car involved was almost definitely not negligent. In fact, the accident may well have been your fault. In this example, any settlement might also be rather small. If the defendant wasn’t negligent, his/her insurance company is not obligated to pay you anything. Once again, you might be able to settle for a small amount, but, if you truly can’t prove that the other driver was negligent, the insurer is going to be very unlikely to settle the case for anything substantial.
When you're trying to value a motorcycle injury claim, remember that there are really two types of valuations: settlement value and trial value. A case’s settlement value is what you reasonably hope to settle the case for. The settlement value will be much lower than the trial value because you settle a case in order to avoid the risk of losing at trial. In litigation, a bird in the hand is definitely worth two in the bush.
On the other hand, the trial value is what you reasonably expect to win at trial. Let’s look at an example to see how settlement value and trial value relate.
Let’s say that, based on the liability and the damages, you believe that, if you went to trial and won, the jury would award you $200,000, but that you think that you only have a 20% chance of winning. In that situation, you might want to settle your case for slightly less than $40,000 (i.e., 20% of the expected trial value). So, in general, a case’s settlement value is a little less than the trial value multiplied by the estimated chances of winning the trial. It is a little less because you settle the case in order to avoid the risk of losing at trial.
Damages in a personal injury case are usually divided into two types:
Special damages are the plaintiff’s past, present, and future lost earnings and lost earning capacity, including employment benefits, medical bills, and other financial losses. Special damages are capable of exact calculation because they are calculated to the dollar.
Pain and suffering is not capable of exact calculation. There are no guidelines for determining the value of pain and suffering. A jury cannot look at a chart to figure out how much to award. Because of this, judges generally instruct juries to use their good sense, background, and experience in determining pain and suffering.
Calculating past lost earnings is easy. You simply add up the earnings and employment benefits that you lost from being out of work.
Unfortunately, calculating future lost earning capacity is much harder, and generally requires your lawyer to hire an economic expert to properly present lost future earning capacity to the jury because it involves the concept of present value.
Let’s say that, before the motorcycle accident, you earned $40,000 per year, but that, after the accident, you could only return to a part time job earning $20,000 per year. In this case, your lost earning capacity is $20,000 per year for the remainder of your work life expectancy. Work life expectancy is a statistical measure based on federal government statistics of how many more years a person is reasonably expected to work, based on that person’s age, sex, and race. That is easy to figure out, but it is much harder to calculate what $20,000 per year projected into the future is worth in the present. That is why personal injury lawyers generally hire an economist to present this information to the jury at trial.
Learn more about Motorcycle Accident Claims.