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What are the recoverable damages in a car crash lawsuit?

Recoverable damages include medical bills, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, physical impairment, disfigurement, pain and suffering and loss of consortium.

Medical bills:

All medical bills for treatment that is reasonable, necessary and related to injuries arising from the motor vehicle crash may be recoverable.

Ambulance: the typical medical bills arising from a car crash include ambulance bills which can often range between $800 and $1,800 in Colorado, depending on the length of the trip, the medical services provided, and the particular ambulance company involved.

Emergency room: ER bills in Colorado vary widely depending on the hospital that is providing the services.  Often, the hospital bills can range between $8,000 and $25,000 for medical treatment that includes CT scans and other diagnostic testing. If emergency surgery is required, a hospital bill can quickly climb over $100,000.

 ER Physician bill: the doctors who provide the medical services in an emergency room have their own billing schedule, which can often range between $800 and $2,500 for standard ER treatment. This bill is separate from the hospital bill. If surgery is required, the physician's bill will be substantially higher.

 Imaging: if the hospital uses a separate imaging service for X-rays, CT scans and MRIs, there may be a separate imaging bill which can range between several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the type of imaging performed.

 Rehabilitative treatment: after the initial ER treatment, there is likely going to be substantial follow-up care including office visits with a primary care physician, physical therapist, chiropractor, massage therapist, etc. This additional treatment can add thousands of dollars to medical bills that were incurred in the emergency room.

 Future medical treatment:  If your injuries require ongoing medical treatment, additional surgeries or other procedures, you may be able to recover additional compensation to pay for future medical care and treatment. Your Colorado injury lawyer may recommend you have your injuries evaluated by medical experts to determine the type of treatment needed and the compensation needed to pay for future treatment.

Does the at-fault driver's car insurance pay the medical bills?

Not immediately: the at-fault driver's car insurance will eventually pay some or all of the medical bills assuming there is enough insurance coverage available. Unfortunately, the insurer will not pay a dime until the case is settled which may be six-months to a year or more down the road. This means that people injured in car wrecks in Colorado must fend for themselves in the meantime. For injured folks who have no health insurance, and no ability to work because of their injuries, this can create severe financial stress. The medical providers still expect to be paid in a timely manner. They will not hesitate to send your past-due medical bills to collections which can rapidly damage your credit rating. It is important that your attorney quickly investigate other sources of potential coverage for your medical bills including medpay coverage, health insurance, alternate sources of health insurance such as Medicaid, and workers compensation, if applicable. It is also important that you contact your medical providers and work out a payment plan that you can afford.  Most medical providers will agree to keep your accounts out of collections if you are willing to pay even a small amount of money per month while your injury case is moving through the settlement process. While it is tempting to ignore the barrage of medical bills that come in the mail, you do so at your own peril. The most important thing you can do to protect your credit rating is to stay in touch with your medical providers, keep them informed of the status of your injury case, and keep making very small payments against your total medical debt. Medical providers understand the personal injury claims process and will often be patient with you if you stay in touch with them.

Lost Wages:

What lost income can I recover?  If your injuries prevent you from working, you can recover your lost wages for the time you are unable to work. If you use employee benefits like sick time, vacation time, short term disability or long-term disability; these benefits are also recoverable as damages

Mitigation of damages: The law requires you to mitigate or lessen your damages. If you are capable of working in some capacity, you must do so or risk losing your ability to receive full compensation for days in which you are capable of working. For example, someone who normally performs a physical job may be able to return to work on light duty. If your employer offers you a job alternative that is less physically demanding, and you can do the work without further injury, then the law requires you to mitigate your damages by performing such work. If your doctor, however, advises against such work, you should follow your doctor's advice.

What happens if I am too injured to work? One of the most stressful and financially perilous periods of time for accident victims occurs in the first three months after a car crash when they are laid up in bed and unable to immediately go back to work.  The bills pile up, the creditors start calling, and you wonder if you are ever going to be able to climb out from under your debt.

If you were injured due to another driver's negligence, the at-fault insurance company will eventually compensate you for your medical bills and lost wages, assuming you have an effective attorney, and assuming there is enough insurance coverage available. However, the insurance company will not pay anything until your case has settled. This means you will have to pay your mortgage, car payment and utilities while you are recovering from injury and waiting for settlement.

If you have employment benefits to cover periods of disability, you may be able to access these benefits to receive some income while you are recovering. If the injury happened in the course and scope of your employment there may be workers' compensation benefits available. If you are not eligible for short term disability or workers compensation, you should quickly explore sources of funding like credit lines, credit cards, home equity loans, or loans from family and friends. If you cannot get funding through these sources, consider pursuing full or part time employment that is not physically demanding, assuming your doctor agrees.

If you cannot secure such employment or your injuries are too serious to do any kind of work while you are recovering, you can seek funding through companies that specialize in loans to people who are waiting for personal injury settlements. These finance companies will extend loans, usually in increments of $1,000-$3,000 after they have been assured by an attorney that there is a viable personal injury case and that financial recovery is likely. The downside is that these companies charge high interest rates for these loans. The interest rates are often comparable to high-interest credit cards and can require the borrower to pay back a third or more of the borrowed amount in interest alone. These loans should be viewed as a last resort.

Loss of future earning capacity:  If your injury prevents you from earning at the same compensation level that you earned prior to the motor vehicle crash, you may be able to seek damages for the drop-off in your wage-earning capacity. For example, a skilled oil-field worker may have been able to earn $100,000 per year before the car crash. After the injuries, the same person may no longer be able to perform the physically demanding work required. Instead, the injured person may have to work a less physically demanding desk job for lower compensation. If the injury is permanent, you may be able to seek damages for the lost earnings across the remainder of your career.

Another example is the drop-off in earning capacity after traumatic brain injury. A person who performed highly technical work, or work that involved complex multi-tasking, may no longer be able to perform that work at the same level after a serious head injury. Even if an injured person can return to the same work, their efficiency may have dropped-off enough to impact their ability to earn promotions and other higher-earning opportunities. A skilled Colorado injury attorney will be able to secure medical experts, economists and life planners to document the drop-off in earning capacity that would likely occur over the remainder of the injured person's career.

Physical Impairment:Permanent physical injuries not only impact the ability to earn income, they can also impact your quality of life. Someone who used to be a runner, rock climber, or soccer player may no longer be able to do those activities after a serious car wreck.  There may be lingering back and neck pain that never completely goes away. There may be migraines, spinal injury, nerve damage, cognitive damage, or other injury that substantially limits the physical and intellectual activities a person can participate in going forward. These impacts on a person's quality of life may be recovered as category of damages called physical impairment.

Disfigurement:Disfigurement certainly includes the obvious cases like loss of a limb; facial burning or scarring, or some other easily noticeable injury or damage to the body. Disfigurement, however, also includes injuries that are not as obvious like surgical scars that are not visible to the public. For example, a person may refrain from wearing shorts or skirts in warm weather because they are embarrassed by a permanent surgical scar on their upper thigh. This type of disfigurement is compensable. A skilled Colorado injury attorney will push insurance companies to compensate an injured person for this type of scarring.

Pain and Suffering: Pain and suffering often refers to the inconvenience, frustration, sleepless nights, aching pain, and general disruption to an injured person's life by having to go to numerous doctor's appointments, miss-out on fun activities, missed work, missed family outings, and enduring the pain and hassle associated with healing and recovery. This is a common category of damages and insurance companies will usually provide compensation for pain and suffering if they are confronted by a skilled injury attorney.

Loss of Consortium: Loss of consortium is a loss of benefits that a spouse is entitled to receive from the injured spouse including companionship, aid, support, affection and sexual relations.