Here are a few real-world examples of trial outcomes and jury awards in car accident cases around the country, as reported by users of this website.
In heavy traffic on Route 66 in Northern Virginia, Walter Reusche's vehicle was rear-ended by another driven by Inocentes M. Lutz. Mr. Reusche claimed that Ms. Lutz's failure to keep a proper lookout and maintain a safe distance between vehicles amounted to negligence. Mr. Reusche also claimed that he sustained a torn rotator cuff, which required surgery. Mr. Reusche, a 40 year-old who worked as a computer technician, claimed medical bills of $12,000 and lost income of $2,000.
Ms. Lutz admitted fault for the car accident but disputed the extent of Mr. Reusche's car accident injuries.
After deliberating for about 1½ hours, a jury returned a verdict of $20,000 for Mr. Reusche.
Analysis: Because Mr. Reusche had to go through shoulder surgery, a jury might have been expected to award more for pain and suffering than this one did. Apparently, Mr. Reusche had "demanded" $30,000 before trial, but Ms. Lutz's insurance company, Allstate, offered only $14,000. After paying an expert witness (his orthopedic surgeon) to testify, and considering the time and hassle that it took to get the case to trial, it turned out that going to court didn't add much, if anything, to what Mr. Reusche would have netted if he had accepted the defense's settlement offer. Of course, it's always easy to make these judgments after the case is over.
52 year-old David Peterson was standing on a sidewalk outside his car in a parking lot, when a van driven by Victoria T. Esparza, an employee of American Habilitation Service, Inc. (AHS), jumped a curb, hit two parked cars and then struck Mr. Peterson. The lawyer for the plaintiff argued that Ms. Esparza was going at least 30 miles per hour when she hit Mr. Peterson and that AHS negligently hired Ms. Esparza because she had a poor driving record. (Learn more about employer liability for employee-caused car accidents.)
Mr. Peterson sustained multiple fractures throughout his lower, upper and mid-body, a brain injury and a subarachnoid hemorrhage. He died as a result of his injuries.
Mr. Peterson's family argued that he would have earned $1.4 million to $1.8 million over his remaining work life.
A Texas jury awarded damages against both AHS and Esparza, and in favor of Mr. Peterson's surviving family members. The total verdict was $4,280,000.
Analysis: This case illustrates that "wrongful death actions", which are controlled by state law, normally benefit surviving family members. In this case, the family members were able to recover for "loss of society and companionship," loss of inheritance, loss of pecuniary contribution, and mental anguish. In a separate "survival action," there was also an award for Mr. Peterson's conscious pain and suffering, and for the cost of treating him before his death.
Scheherezede was riding her bicycle on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. The driver of a parked car opened his door, and Scheherezede ran into it. She was thrown onto the road and another driver ran over her left arm.
The owner of the car who opened his door claimed that Scheherezede was not paying attention. The driver of the car that ran over her left arm claimed he didn't have time to avoid her. (Learn more about common fault issues in bike-versus-car accidents.)
A jury decided that the driver who ran over Scheherezede's arm wasn't to blame, that the driver with the open door was 65 percent at fault and that Scheherezede was 35 percent at fault.
The award was $103,331. However, because of Scheherezede's comparative negligence, the award was reduced to $56,620.
Comments: Scheherezede is fortunate that her bicycle accident happened in California, a comparative negligence state. If this case had been filed in one of the five contributory negligence states, Scheherezede would not have been able to recover anything (because any contributory negligence in those states completely defeats the claim). Learn more about comparative and contributory negligence in car accident cases.
A tractor-trailer changed lanes as it traveled on I-35, near Waco, Texas, and ran into a Honda Shadow motorcycle being ridden by Walter Browning, throwing Browning off the motorcycle and seriously injuring him.
Browning, a 13-year Army veteran and former security guard, lost four fingers on his left hand and can no longer walk without assistance because of serious injuries to his left leg.
The defendants had a different version of how the accident happened. They said that Browning had driven his motorcycle into the tractor-trailer, instead of the other way around.
Both sides hired accident reconstruction experts who came up with different opinions about the cause of the accident. (Learn more about common causes of motorcycle accidents.)
A federal jury deliberated for about 3 hours before deciding liability in favor of Browning and returning a verdict in his favor for $6 million, to cover past and future physical injuries, disfigurement, physical impairment, and medical expenses.
Analysis: It's not unusual for experts on each side of a case to say opposite things, as these accident reconstruction experts did. Sometimes jurors react to this kind of conflicting testimony by saying something like, "if the experts can't agree, how are we supposed to figure this out?"
So, it's important that your experts -- whether they are accident reconstruction experts, doctors, economists, whomever -- not only support you, but also make sense. If your expert "just makes more sense" than the opposing expert, you have a great chance of winning your case.
Instead of settling this case, this insurance company decided to "roll the dice." If the defense had convinced the jury that Mr. Browning had caused the accident, he would have received nothing. If it had convinced the jury that he was a partial cause of the accident, Mr. Browning's award would have been reduced under the comparative negligence doctrine. However, the way this case played out, Mr. Browning was awarded more than he might have accepted to settle the case.
This case shows us a number of things. To start with the most obvious, it shows that when car accident liability is contested and the stakes are high, having a lawyer to represent you can make a big difference.
The above examples are helpful in terms of understanding how car accident lawsuits might play out in court, but remember that every case is unique. The best way to get a sense of the strength of your claim -- and what to expect if you decide to file a lawsuit -- is to sit down and discuss your case with an experienced car accident lawyer.
Have you been in a car accident?
Take our free car accident quiz to find out if you're likely to get a settlement.