Personal Injury: How Your Injuries Affect Your Settlement or Award


If you’ve been hurt in an accident caused by someone else’s carelessness, you want to know how much you can get in compensation for your medical expenses and other losses. We asked our readers across the United States for details on their personal injury claims, and here’s what we learned about how the nature and severity of the injuries they suffered affected the outcome of their cases.

How Serious Are Your Injuries?

The amount of any “payout” (either a settlement or a court award after a trial) you can expect to receive in a personal injury case will depend on the specifics of your situation—including whether you were at fault, whether you hire a lawyer, and whether you try to negotiate a better deal after the first settlement offer. (See our article on how different aspects of a claim affect personal injury settlements and awards.) But clearly, the more serious your injuries, the more likely it is that you’ve had substantial medical expenses, lost income, and other damages. And not surprisingly, all of those factors generally lead to a higher payout. One way of measuring the severity of injuries is to look at the type of medical care you received as a result of the accident, as well as the cost of that care. (See our article on how readers' medical treatment affected their personal injury settlements and awards.) Another is to weigh the effect of different types of injuries.

Physical Injuries

Most of the personal injury claimants we surveyed had more than one kind of injury, ranging from bruises and cuts to head trauma and permanent disability. The longer the list of injuries involved, the higher the settlement or award. Our survey also showed that readers with certain types of injuries tended to receive higher payouts. The highest average settlements and awards went to those who sustained some type of permanent disability, or whose injuries included scarring, disfigurement, broken bones, or a loss in consciousness. It appears that when an accident has a permanent impact on the claimant’s appearance or when it has immediate traumatic effects, compensation reaches its peak.

The most common types of injuries—to the neck and back (think whiplash and lower back pain)—yielded settlements or awards that were lower in comparison, but still above the overall average of $52,900. (These averages don’t include the minority of readers—30%—who received no payout at all.)

Nonphysical Injuries

When you’ve been injured in a car accident, a fall, or some other incident, you may be left with pain, numbness, discomfort, or other ongoing physical effects of the original injury. You might also have emotional symptoms—anxiety, depression, or stress. You may not be able to do the things you’re used to doing, or you might miss out on important events like weddings or vacations. These problems (and others like them) are referred to as “pain and suffering,” and they typically make up a big part of any settlement or award. Compensation for "pain and suffering" increases exponentially alongside the seriousness of a claimant's injuries, since more serious physical injuries are more likely to create reverberations in every area of life, from emotional upset to bankruptcy. (For details, see our articles on what pain and suffering is worth in a personal injury case and how insurers value injuries.)

More than three quarters of our readers suffered nonphysical problems along with their physical injuries, and they received significantly higher settlements and awards--$67,000 on average, compared with $6,200 for those who only reported physical injuries.

Get the Full Picture

Our survey shows that it’s important to have a complete evaluation of all your injuries—physical as well as nonphysical—before you settle a personal injury claim. Along with obtaining proper medical treatment, it’s probably a good idea to talk a lawyer who can help you assess your situation and understand the full value of your claim.

About This Report

The data referenced above is from Martindale-Nolo Research's 2017 personal injury study, which analyzed survey responses from readers who had personal injury claims and had researched hiring a lawyer. The names of any quoted readers have been changed to protect their privacy.

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