It is possible to find some average figures for North Carolina car accident settlements. However, since damages are generally based on facts and provable damages, those averages don’t tell you very much.
There Is No Such Thing as a “Typical” Settlement
There are no typical settlements because there are no typical cases. That is, the amount of any settlement in a car accident case is based on the amount of damages that can be proven in that case. In other words, every case is unique to and shaped by its underlying facts. More damages, more severe injuries, longer post-accident care, all factors like these, will increase your settlement amount.
Factors that Can Influence Your Settlement
That being said, some factors will tend to influence the amount of your settlement in one way or the other. When looked at individually and then in combination, these factors will allow an experienced car accident attorney to predict the potential value of your case with some certainty. Some of the more significant factors are discussed below.
Your income is a not-so-intuitive factor in the possible amount of your settlement because the numbers that go into producing your settlement amount are based on your income. For example, you will be able to recover any lost income incurred as a result of your injuries. In addition, you are likely to be able to recover compensation for future lost wages or for a loss of earning capacity if your injuries make it unlikely that you will be able to continue to work in the same way for the same compensation in the future. Finally, if you can no longer work at all, that loss of income to you – and possibly to your family – will have to be factored into your claim.
The Extent and Severity of Your Injuries
One of the most obvious and yet most complex factors in the amount of your ultimate settlement is the nature, extent, and severity of your injuries. Some car accidents result in nothing more serious than some contusions and lacerations. Others, however, cause spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and severely disfiguring burns and scars. These latter types of injuries lead to large settlements as the current medical and hospital expenses are melded with potential losses in income and earning capacity, the need for therapy and assistive care, and ongoing medical expenses. Coupled with non-economic damages like pain and suffering, a car accident that involves these severe injuries can result in very large settlements and jury verdicts.
Your prognosis and the permanency of your injuries are also a key factor in determining the amount of your eventual settlement. The prognosis has a substantial impact on the settlement amount because of how injured you are and it is a key component of your settlement figure. Being unable to work, and being unable to participate in activities you enjoyed before your injury are all taken into account. For example, if you are likely to miss two months of work recovering from your injuries, that is quite a different story than missing work for two or three years while undergoing extensive and expensive medical treatments. In the latter case, the defendants and their insurance companies face a settlement significantly larger than they would face in a case involving less serious injuries.
Whether You Were Partially at Fault for Your Accidents
This issue is perhaps the deadliest for the plaintiff in estimating a settlement award. North Carolina, one of only five U.S. jurisdictions to use the so-called pure contributory negligence rule, holds that if you were at all at fault in your accident, you will be denied any recovery. Under this rule, if a jury or judge finds you, as the plaintiff, to be even 1% at fault in your accident, you cannot recover at all. In other words, if there is any negligence on your part, there will be no recovery at all. Most states follow one of the two doctrines of comparative negligence. Under those theories, a partially at-fault plaintiff may still recover some greater or lesser portion of the damages proven in the case.
Statutory Damage Caps
North Carolina does not cap economic or non-economic damages. To the extent you can prove that you have been injured up to a certain amount, you will, barring contributory negligence, be able to recover up to that amount. In general, damages are not capped in North Carolina. The exception to this rule is that punitive damages, which are rarely available, are capped at the greater of three times your proven compensatory damages or $250,000.
The Nature of the Other Party’s Conduct
However, the nature of the other party’s conduct can have a significant impact on your potential recovery, especially since North Carolina also follows the doctrine of the Last Clear Chance. This doctrine means that, even if you were contributorily negligent, you may still recover if the other driver had the last clear chance to avoid the accident. If, for example, you were speeding at the time you were hit, contributory negligence may not apply if it can be shown that defendant failed to take advantage of the last clear chance to avoid the accident. In that case, you should recover even though your speeding was negligent conduct.
The other important aspect of the other party’s conduct that will impact your recovery is their conduct. If you can show that the defendant acted in an intentional or reckless manner or in wanton disregard of the safety of others, then you may recover punitive damages. The Defendant’s gross negligence also trumps a claim of contributory negligence. Combined with the Last Clear Chance standard, the level of conduct that supports punitive damages may well allow you to recover some part of your damages even where you might arguably be partially at fault.
When you purchase car insurance, your policy will have certain coverage limits. North Carolina, for example, requires that your auto insurance policy cover $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident, with property damage covered at a minimum of $25,000. If you do, in fact, purchase the minimums, those numbers will be your policy limits. Bodily Injury coverage is what pays for any injuries to others from the accident. This includes everything from medical expenses—like doctor visits and physical therapy—to lost wages. Property Damage insurance covers damage to someone else’s property.
With these limits, if there are medical expenses that total $35,000, then the insurance company would play the entire $30,000 policy limit. If there happen to be multiple people injured in the car accident, then there is a total of $60,000 available for every injured party involved.
Protect Your Rights by Retaining a Wilmington Personal Injury Lawyer Today
As you can see, recovering for damages suffered in a North Carolina car accident can be complicated. Working with an experienced and knowledgeable personal injury and car accident attorney will get you through the labyrinth of liability in North Carolina. Contact us today or call 910-490-4247 for a free case evaluation and consultation.