Victim of an Accident, Suffering Expenses
When you, the accident victim, are forced to pay your out-of-pocket for medical bills, auto repairs, medication, or other costs that arise because of your accident-related injuries, Texas law allows you to file a claim against the person or party that caused the accident to reimburse you for what you’ve paid.
Since less than 10% of all accident claims end up in court, these expenses are negotiated between your attorney and the insurance company. And because they prefer to pay you as little as possible, the onus is on you to keep track of all those bills, no matter how small, and then include them in the demand package that is sent to the defendant’s insurance carrier.
The basic mechanics of the negotiation phase of an insurance claim include the following steps:
- Your lawyer then conducts an investigation – which can take a few weeks to a year or longer – to determine what happened and confirm the defendant’s negligence.
- During this period, you and your attorney itemize of all your expenses, from the major ones like medical bills and lost income (and company-paid benefits) to having to pay the people that mow your lawn because you no longer can. All expenses are part of the demand package your lawyer sends to the insurance company.
- The insurance company considers the evidence against what it feels could be awarded by a judge or jury at trial.
- Both sides try to “cut a deal” that you (not your lawyer) will accept as an appropriate settlement.
- If you reject the offer, then it’s off to court.
The objective of money “damages” is to “make you whole” by compensating you for what you’ve lost as a result of the accident. And because you didn’t cause it but were still forced to pay money out of your pocket to others to do things you would have normally done yourself, why shouldn’t you be fairly compensated?
Personal Injury Damages Available to Injured Victims Under Texas Law
Damages are generally broken down into two categories – economic and non-economic – although your lawyer might also refer to them as special (economic) and general (non-economic). Typically, special damages are easily quantifiable. They include medical bills and lost income (including any company-paid benefits like health insurance and your 401K). But special damages also include all of your out-of-pocket expenses incurred between the accident and the resolution of your case.
General damages often revolve around pain and suffering and mental anguish. These damages are not easily quantifiable and black and white dollars and cents.
For the purposes of this article, we will focus on those additional bills that are included in your special damages. You must document all expenditures and prove that having to retain these services represent an additional financial burden arising from your accident.
Keep Good Records of Household Services and Other Reimbursements
Some expenses of your daily life can be claimed by both spouses, and by parents in some cases if the victim is a child who consistently contributed to the care and maintenance of the home. One example: If a husband spent many hours keeping the yard beautiful, that service to the family has a monetary value. To keep the yard from falling into disrepair because he is injured and can’t do the work, the family has to hire a lawn service. The expense of the lawn service is reimbursable.
Another example may be the wife or kids handling the normal maintenance chores in the home (cleaning, doing laundry, watching over younger siblings). But due to the accident, they cannot fulfill their normal obligations. Those also have market value. Your attorney must, however, submit evidence of the expense incurred when hiring someone else to do the work the injured person cannot perform. So when you hire in-home child care, a maid, or landscaping services because the injured victim is unable to perform these duties, those become reimbursable expenses.
This is why you must keep strict records of what you spend. If you have to pay for anything – prescription drugs, car repairs, even cabs or a driver if you are unable to drive and no one is available when you need them – keep a running total of all your “miscellaneous” (but reimbursable) expenses. Depending on your situation, even obscure expenses you might never think of may be reimbursable. Your lawyer will guide you through this process.
Just because the law grants someone who was injured by another’s negligence the right to pursue certain damages, rare is the time when the defendant (including the insurance company) is going to say, “Sure, I did it and I’ll pay you every penny of damages that I owe you.” It doesn’t work that way when you’re dealing with an insurance company that takes in billions of dollars in premiums, then shuts its wallets tighter than a snare drum when it’s time to pay legitimate claims you make against its customer.
In any injury case, it is the burden of the injured party (you and your lawyer) to prove the defendant’s culpability as well as the validity of the damages you seek. And that’s done with clear and detailed records showing proven payment of all appropriate bills and tenacious negotiations between your attorney and the insurer . . . or litigation in civil court if the defendant acts unreasonably.
Unrecoverable Expenses and Why it’s Sometimes Best to Avoid a Trial
During the negotiation phase, you have more control over the amount of compensation you receive from the defendant’s insurance company. But once your trial begins, assuming you win, you have virtually no say in how much money you actually receive.
First, the jury or the judge will decide how much money to award you. Unlike the negotiation phase where you have the option to accept or reject an offer of settlement, you cannot negotiate with the jury or the judge once they’ve made an award.
Second, not all expenses associated with a trial may be reimbursable. Expert witness fees (and their traveling expenses), services such as deposition videotaping and transcription, photocopying, and other records management services come out of your percentage of the award. And in the typical trial, all that money adds up to a significant amount – usually thousands of dollars.
When the defendant’s final offer is received, hopefully it will be enough to cover all of your damages. Because if you have to go to trial, you may find that after your lawyer’s fee and all those non-reimbursable trial expenses, you may not get what you need. This is the primary reason why only one in ten personal injury claims go to trial.
As you can see, there are several things to keep in mind when thinking about how much you’ll be owed in a personal injury claim. At Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law, we help clients keep track of these expenses and determine how much their case is worth.
If you’ve been injured and need a personal injury attorney in Houston, then look no further than Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law. Terry Bryant is a former judge and a Board Certified injury attorney in Texas. He and his hand-picked team know the law and how to get results for their clients. Contact the firm today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.