Every day in Small Claims Courtrooms across the US, Plaintiffs in car crash claims make a common giant mistake. They fail to ask for all of the damages the law offers to them. And this means they miss out, because judges can usually only award damages up to the amount the Plaintiff claims in his or her pleadings.
A Plaintiff representing his/her self in a Small Clams auto collision case should prepare in advance a written “Statement of Damages” which lists, and asks for the following categories of damages separately:
1. Property Damages
The cost of repair or replacement of your vehicle and any other property damages in the collision such as GPS units, computers, glasses, favorite coffee cup, etc. Attach a receipt for payment, even if your insurance company has paid the bill (see collateral source rule below). If your damages have not been paid yet, you can use a written estimate from a repair facility to support your claim.
2. Loss of Use of Vehicle
Loss of use of a vehicle is a separate category of damages from “Property Damage”. Within the loss of use section, a Plaintiff may claims rental car expenses, and reimbursement for trouble caused by the lack of transportation, such as the cost of sterilizing those clothes you had to wear on the city bus.
3. Medical Bills (Not Co Pay Costs)
Plaintiffs should claim the full amount of the cost of the medical services they received. This means the amount the hospital bills you and your insurance company for the treatment. Plaintiffs are entitled to the reasonable value of the medical services rendered, not the actual co payment a Plaintiff pays with insurance coverage.
Example? You got a $3,000 emergency room and xray bill from the hospital after the accident. Your medical insurance company pays $2800, and you had to pay $200. In a California Small Claims action on these facts, the Plaintiff should claim the entire $3000 bill as damages. Most states have similar rules, and there is not harm in asking for it all.
The law says a negligent defendant cannot escape payment of damages because you were smart enough to buy insurance. It is called the “Collateral source” rule, and prevents Defendants from using your insurance coverage as a defense.
4. Future Medical Expenses
If a doctor has told you that you may need future treatment or appointments, you can claim a reasonable estimate of these bills as well. Document your claim here with a doctor’s testimony, or written affidavit.
5. Pain and Suffering
There is no set schedule of payment for pain and suffering. Plaintiffs should aks for a figure, and support the claim with descriptions and documentation of the pain. Frequently, personal injury attorneys will have an injured plaintiff will out a calendar of pain experiences as the days go by.
6. Lost Wages
Time missed from work due to medical appointments, pain, or dealing with your vehicle damages should be claimed separately from other damages.
7. Future Lost Wages
Future Damages that can be documented are recoverable by a successful plaintiff. If you expect to have to miss work days for medical appointments, or car repair problems, you should claim this loss on a “Statement of Damages”.
8. Loss of Enjoyment of Life
The states that Plaintiffs injured by negligent defendants are entitled to damages for “loss of enjoyment of life” separately from “Pain and Suffering”. How do they differ? Pain is physical pain. “Loss of Enjoyment of Life” can appear in the form of a fear of driving at night, or a new compulsion to wear a helmet in the car while driving. Loss of sexual enjoyment of your partner for a period may also qualify.
9. Out of Pocket Expenses
If you have to buy over the counter pain relievers, special pillows, a neck brace, or anything else out of pocket as a result of the accident, you should claim it in this section of your “Statement of Damages”.
There you have it. The most important categories of damages that a Plaintiff in a Small Claims auto accident case may claim. To maximize your chances of a judgement that covers all of your damages, list each of these damages separately for the court with documentation. Make sure you have extra copies in a court trial for the Defendant and the Court to examine during the hearing.
More Tips on Supporting Your Claim for Damages in an Auto Accident Case?
A negligent Defendant is liable to an injured Plaintiff for all of these damages separately, even if your own insurance company has paid for all or a portion of them. Why? Because you paid for that insurance coverage, and the law says negligent defendants do not escape liability just because you were smart enough to buy insurance.
Always ask for maximum jurisdictional award in your Complain or Court Claim forms. Most Personal Injury Attorneys will do the same, and claim the maximum amount they can according to the jurisdictional limit of the court, with a statement that also says “Or according to proof”. By adding that phrase, a Plaintiff is basically saying “I want all of the available damages supported by the evidence.”
For example, if the Small Claims damages limit is $10,000, a plaintiff may ask for $10,000 damages or “according to proof at trial”. There is no harm in asking for the max in your claim forms (pleadings).
Ask the Judge to Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of the Judge if the court determines you are entitled to a damages award. In CA, and many other states, the Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend a Negligent Defendant’s drivers license until an auto accident judgement is paid. By asking the judge to make sure the DMV is notified of the judgement (assuming you will win), you will make sure they do not forget this very important aspect of a winning judgement.
Finally, make your statement of damages easy to read, and attach all of the documentation you can to support your claims.
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