If you or a loved one have suffered a concussion as the result of a car accident, you may be thinking about initiating a lawsuit against the party at fault. Before continuing your search for an attorney or taking any next steps, you may want to learn more about how much you can expect to get in a car accident concussion settlement so you know if you want to proceed. Here’s some information to help guide you.
What Is a Concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury in which the head is jarred to the point where the brain strikes the inside of the skull. You may have heard of concussions happening frequently in contact sports like football, but concussions are also a common result of car accidents.
Often when a concussion occurs, the victim’s head strikes a hard surface. In motor vehicle accidents, this is often the dashboard, steering wheel, or window of the car. Concussions can also result from loose items in the vehicle striking the victim or from another vehicle or its contents hitting the victim in the head. In rare instances, a victim of concussion may be ejected from the vehicle or experience other extreme circumstances that exacerbate their head injury.
It isn’t the blow to the head that causes the concussion but the reverberation within the skull. In very strong strikes to the head, the brain may not just strike the inside of the skull once but multiple times in different internal locations.
What Are the Symptoms of a Concussion?
The symptoms of a concussion can range from mild and barely noticeable to extreme. If you experienced these signs and symptoms after a car accident, you may have suffered a concussion:
- Head pressure, like being squeezed or wearing a hat band that’s too tight
- Loss of consciousness (“blacking out”), even for a few seconds
- Confusion, disorientation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Seeing stars
- Amnesia (forgetting things)
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Poor balance
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Dazed appearance
- Fatigue or excess sleepiness
- Irritability or changes in personality
- Sensitivity to noise and light
- Changes to the sense of smell and taste
- Difficulty sleeping or a change in sleep habits
- Depression and other psychological problems
- Frequent crying (in children)
- Dilated or uneven pupils
- Swelling or bruising to the outside of the head
Some of these symptoms may appear immediately after a car accident, while others may come on hours or even days afterward.
If you or a loved one experience these symptoms or show signs of a concussion, it’s important to seek medical treatment right away. Even if you don’t have these symptoms, after certain types of car accidents doctors or first responders to the scene (police, firefighters, and EMTs/paramedics) may suggest being seen at the hospital to rule out a head injury. They may immobilize an accident victim by wrapping the neck and strapping the patient to a hard board to prevent further injury.
In the emergency room, physicians look for the symptoms of a concussion (above), as well as signs of another brain injury. Some typical procedures include:
- Making sure the accident victim is oriented to person, place, and time (they know their name, where they are, and the date)
- Looking at other injuries and bleeding that are indicative of the seriousness of the accident
- Checking the pupils to make sure the eyes are functioning properly
- Asking about symptoms only the patient can feel, like a headache
- Assessing the patient’s verbal and motor skills
- Evaluating for nausea and vomiting
- Watching for seizures or other serious complications
- Checking to make sure the patient can detect sensation in all four extremities (arms and legs)
- Ordering a CT scan, MRI, or other medical images to look inside the body to check for fractures, internal bleeding, and brain swelling
Often, someone who is showing signs of a concussion will be monitored for some time after the incident that caused it in order to be sure their symptoms are resolving, not getting worse. If you or a family member has a concussion, or if a concussion is suspected, you may be kept in the hospital overnight, just to make sure your condition is stable before you are allowed to go home. Of course, if you have other serious injuries, you may be kept overnight for those issues as well.
Sometimes the symptoms of a concussion do not improve and the victim may be left with permanent problems. If the problems linger (also known as post-concussion syndrome) and another party was at fault, such as the driver of another vehicle in a car accident, the concussed victim may seek legal counsel to recoup damages.
What Types of Damages Are Involved in Head Injury Cases?
There are two types of damages involved when it comes to head injury cases: special damages and general damages.
Special damages are those that can be quantified, such as economic losses directly attributable to the accident. Examples of special damages include:
- Lost income
- Lost ability to earn money
- Medical expenses
- Funeral expenses (in wrongful death cases)
- Property damage
General damages are more difficult to figure. These are non-economic losses but are still directly attributable to the accident, such as changes to one’s quality of life. Other types of general damages include:
- Loss of companionship (for a spouse or family member)
- Emotional distress
- Psychological problems
- Embarrassment or humiliation
- Loss of reputation
How Are Damages Calculated?
Special damages are more easily calculated because they involve specific quantities. If you think you may sue someone for damages, you will need records of things like medical expenses (including therapy and drug costs) and payroll documentation for lost wages at the present time. You will also need those documents to predict any lost wages in the future if you are unable to return to work because of your head injury.
Sometimes a formula is used to calculate general damages. Typically, somewhere between 1.5 and 5 times the special damages is the amount awarded in general damages. Keeping a log of symptoms can help document the effect of your concussion on your daily life so it’s easier to prove a reduced quality of life when asking for general damages.
When total concussion settlements are calculated, the special and general damages are added together. Sometimes the award is adjusted to reflect the savings by not going to trial and settling out of court.
Are There Other Factors That Affect Concussion Settlements?
There are additional factors that may affect a concussion settlement following a car accident. These are worth considering when deciding whether or not to pursue a legal case. Some of these influences include:
The presence of liability
When liability is established, usually larger settlements are proposed because the evidence for fault is so much stronger.
The plaintiff’s history and characteristics
Elements of the plaintiff’s life are considered as well, such as their profession, past medical history, and age.
Location of the trial
Whether the case goes to trial or not, geography is important. Settlements will be calculated based on the usual award in that region and will consider likely jury members and even the presiding judge and how liberal or conservative they usually are with regard to head injury cases.
Involvement of multiple parties (also known as multiple tortfeasors)
If multiple parties are involved in perpetrating the injury of the plaintiff, each defendant’s insurance company will participate in the award, and a discussion will ensue about how much each should contribute.
The behavior of the defendant will be taken into account and may lead to punitive damages beyond general and special damages. Punitive damages may not be actually awarded (some states forbid them) but may be used as a part of the legal negotiating strategy when arriving at a settlement figure. Typically punitive damages are awarded only when there is malicious intent related to the plaintiff’s injury, such as a driver who intentionally strikes another vehicle or a pedestrian. However, conduct like driving while intoxicated can very well figure into a concussion victim’s award.
These are circumstances that could have affected the outcome of the injury, such as the defendant’s refusal to accept medical treatment following the car accident.
What Are Some Recent Head Injury Settlements and Verdicts?
When looking at recent head injury litigation for comparison purposes, it’s advisable to seek cases that are similar to yours in terms of details, the similarity of damages, and geography. If your concussion was the result of a car accident, it is best to focus on cases involving motor vehicle injuries.
Awards can vary from one part of the country to another because medical expenses can vary widely from one region to the next. Also, special damages are often commensurate with wages in the area.
Head injury awards can be as low as five figures and as high as eight figures, depending on the factors involved (see above). As you can see from the list below, often the awards are related to the amount of injury the victim incurred, from mild concussions to permanent brain damage.
A settlement is a sum that is agreed upon via negotiation, whereas a verdict is an amount awarded by a jury in a lawsuit that goes to trial. Here are some examples:
- $100,000 settlement for a driver in California who had a soft tissue injury resulting from striking her head on the vehicle’s window
- $290,000 settlement in Virginia for a person who had a small concussion following a motor vehicle accident
- $800,000 settlement to a North Carolina resident whose traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused multiple symptoms, including loss of short-term memory, mood changes, depression, seizures, and fatigue
- $14 million settlement to a motorcycle driver whose defective tire failed, causing an accident that resulted in a concussion
- $26 million verdict given to a Florida citizen who was involved in an accident with a commercial truck, resulting in long-term brain damage
You can look up legal settlements in your area related to concussions and traumatic brain injury, but it may be easier to consult a lawyer to get a more realistic picture of what is being awarded in your area for cases like yours. You could anticipate a small settlement, when in fact, you might be entitled to a much larger award due to a factor you haven’t even considered.
What Else Should You Know About Concussion Settlement Cases?
Concussion settlements are complicated and require the help of experienced legal professionals who specialize in that type of case. You should never try to represent yourself in court or reach a settlement on your own unless you are willing to risk getting significantly less than you might be entitled to.
When deciding whether or not to pursue a case, consider the time factor. Lawsuits can eat up your schedule and stress you and your family–an important factor to consider if you are already suffering from concussion symptoms or other injuries from your car accident. Be ready to put some time into the case, although a good attorney can take some of that weight off your shoulders.
If you cannot reach a settlement and you have to go to trial, the case may take quite a bit longer. Are you ready to put in that time commitment? In addition to the trial itself, a concussion lawsuit may require that you meet with your attorney regularly, give statements about your injuries, and fill out paperwork requesting documents from medical professionals who have treated you. Again, having an experienced lawyer is key here so you don’t waste your time and to make the entire process as efficient as possible.
The best way to find out if you should pursue a concussion settlement following a car accident is to speak to a trustworthy legal professional. If you or a family member have been in an accident and have been diagnosed with a concussion or think you experienced a concussion, get in touch with the attorneys at Ingerman & Horwitz L.L.P. today. We can counsel you on whether or not you have a good case for a concussion settlement and help you get the damages you deserve to get your life back on track.