Most of my clients who are involved in automobile accidents caused by someone else tend to be pretty stoic. They are more inclined to “tough it out” rather than seek the medical treatment they need or miss any time from work. While I always admire people who intentionally try to avoid “milking the system”, their reticence at caring for themselves makes it rough for a personal injury lawyer to help them recover the appropriate compensation for their injuries.
How much an insurance company intends to pay an injured accident victim for his or her damages is based on a formula specific to each insurance carrier. Generally speaking, however, an insurance adjuster looks at the amount of medical expenses a victim has incurred, how much he or she lost in wages by not being able to work, and the nature of the injury when deciding how much to offer in settlement.
Medical expenses and wage losses are called “special damages”. “General damages” are what will reasonably compensate the victim for his or her pain, suffering, or emotional injury.
Generally, once an insurance adjuster has decided what the claim is worth, it is almost impossible to move them off that figure. This is where it is important to obtain the appropriate medical treatment, and follow your physician’s orders to stay off work.
“Toughing it out” reduces a client’s actual special damages, and gives the impression that the injury is less significant than it really is. This is especially true where no bones are broken. Broken bones are what is called “objective” signs of injury. A jury can look at an X-ray and see the injury. It is easier for a jury to award damages for an injury they can see.
Soft tissue injuries, where no bones are broken, can be just as painful and disabling as injuries where there are broken bones. But, because soft tissue injuries present “subjective” symptoms, based mostly on the victim’s statements about his or her symptoms, it is harder for a jury to lock in on the damage and make an appropriate award. The insurance companies know this and offer significantly less in compensation for a soft tissue injury than one involving broken bones, even though the soft tissue injury might be just as painful, or more so, and may be just as long lasting as the injury involving a broken bone.
The lesson here is to see your doctor when it hurts and listen to his or her recommendations about how much rest to get. And certainly get the advice of your personal injury attorney.