Many lawsuits private individuals initiate to seek compensation for injury or injustice never result in trials. Instead, the businesses or insurance companies that act as defendants agree to one-time settlements, which allow them to control how much they pay without the risks and costs of letting a court decide how much they should pay. While the defendant is not obligated to agree to any settlement you request, you can use several factors to determine what to request.
Monetary damages are the starting point of most settlements. They are also the easiest damages to document. Monetary damages consist of payment for any money you were forced to spend because of the defendant's actions or negligence, or any money you were unable to earn as a result. Monetary damages include lost wages, medical bills, damage to your property and expected future medical costs or lost income. Your court costs and attorney fees involved in the lawsuit also play a role in determining how much you can reasonable request in a settlement.
Not all forms of damages a settlement can cover are easy to document or measure. A settlement can also include payments for pain and suffering, emotional and psychological distress, disfigurement and the loss of your quality of life. Some settlements also include payments for intangible items, such as wrongful death or loss of companionship. Together, monetary damages and other forms of intangible compensation are known as compensatory damages, because they compensate you for specific harm.
Punitive damages are a form of non-compensatory damage that you may be able to request in your settlement. They include payments that serve to punish the defendant and provide incentive not to engage in the same behavior or negligence in the future. Punitive damages are difficult to determine without reviewing historical data that show how much defendants paid in certain types of cases.
Limits and Advice
Some states have limits for non-compensatory damages in a settlement. For example, in California, plaintiffs can only receive $250,000 in addition to money to cover specific, documented costs in a personal injury settlement. Other states have their own limits for specific types of lawsuits. Within these legal limits, a personal injury attorney can help you decide how much to ask for, and what offer to accept. Just as the defendant takes a risk by allowing the lawsuit to proceed, you also risk losing your opportunity to receive compensation, which makes settlement negotiations especially important.