The Magic Multiplier

The Magic Multiplier

In North Carolina, damages for personal injury involve several different kinds of damages. First are the hard damages or “specials” as some call them. These are the damages where the amounts are usually easy to determine. As long as medical bills and lost hours at work can be shown to be caused by the negligence of a defendant, the jury has an easy time determining exactly how much the injury is. Other damages are soft. Past, present, and future mental pain and physical suffering, permanent injury, scarring, and loss of function are all legitimate damages but don’t have an invoice attached to them. Ultimately a jury decides how much the plaintiff’s pain is worth, based on the facts of the case and their own life experiences.

Settling a case, or deciding not to settle a case and have it tried before a jury, requires a plaintiff to evaluate the value of his case and somehow forecast a range of verdicts a jury may give for both the hard and soft damages.   

Many clients believe in the old rule of thumb that a personal injury case is valued at three times the medical bills, plus the hard damages. Some clients even believe this is the law. It is not the law and I have never seen or heard of it even being used in an argument to a jury. At one time it may have been standard practice for personal injury attorneys and insurance adjusters. However, even if it was at one point a good ballpark number for an initial case evaluation, it is no longer the case, and has been for the most part largely rejected for many reasons. 

For example, a jury is pulled from your county or jurisdiction. Some counties are more conservative than others in awarding damages because of age, employment, military service, and several other factors. In addition, the type of injury effects the amount of pain and suffering a jury will award. While the actual pain of a broken bone you can see on an X-ray, and a sprain or strain of the ligaments of the back that you cannot see, may be exactly the same, a jury will typically award more pain and suffering damages to the broken bone. Juries can give more weight to medical doctors over chiropractors even if both testify the same. Also, the idea of tort reform and the fear of a jury of giving out the next “McDonald’s coffee case” can skew the amounts a jury may award. Finally, although the law says and the judge will instruct that the jury not consider damages until they determine liability, the reality is that jurors make deals. A juror skeptical over the fault of a defendant, may nevertheless find against him if the damages are kept low. Finally, ever increasing cost of medical treatment, and the type of treatment, can skew the total of the medical bills out of proportion to the actual injury.  

Experienced attorneys can take all those factors into account and give you a good, realistic value of your case and give you the best knowledge of the risks and benefits of settling for what the insurance company offers, and taking a risk of trial.

–Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC with Hodges & Coxe PC who specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Homeowner’s Associations, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation.  Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.