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  • Andrew Littlejohn Johnson

Recovering Money from a Car Wreck

If someone caused a car accident with you, your first three questions are likely (1) how do I fix my car, (2) should I get medical treatment, and (3) will I be able to recover money from the wreck. These are all legitimate questions. The first question is examined in our property damage article. The second questions depends on whether you are injured; if so, doctors can help. The third question is discussed below.

In South Carolina, car wreck victims may recover for actual damages and punitive damages. Actual damages include economic and non-economic damages. As simple as this sounds, the calculations and analyses are much more involved, and hiring an experienced personal injury attorney is sometimes the best route.

Types of Recovery

The law of torts (the acts of someone wrongfully harming another or putting that person in fear of such harm) is designed to hold the wrongdoer liable, make the victim whole, and deter others from committing the same harmful acts. There is no "eye for an eye" rule, and there is no time machine to take you back to your health before the car wreck. Therefore, to be made "whole," there is only one route in our state: money. Regardless of whether you are in Greenville, Columbia, Fairfield, or Myrtle Beach, these laws and this fact remain true. To obtain this recovery, we look at three types of damages:

Economic damages

Economic damages are the financial damages you incur that can be objectively calculated. These include:

  • your past, current, and future medical bills;

  • any lost wages you incurred;

  • any loss of earning capacity you suffered (e.g., if you suffered a brain injury and can no longer perform your job due to the injury, it's more than just losing wages; you have lost the ability to earn money);

  • out-of-pocket expenses; and

  • any other negative change in monetary value (e.g., if you can no longer clean your house and have to hire someone to perform the task).

At Littlejohn Law, we review all medical reports and bills to determine if your injuries require something called a "Future Cost Projection" or a "Life Care Plan." A Future Cost Projection is completed by an expert and analyzes the projected cost for your medical care into the future. For example, if the doctor has noted that you are expected to need three orthopedic visits over the next year, it is better to obtain a projection for the cost of this treatment than to wait 12 months to demand money from the insurance company.

Alternatively, a Life Care Plan is a detailed report on all medical treatment, costs, and equipment you will need during your lifetime. Typically, a Life Care Plan is needed when a client has suffered a traumatic injury (e.g., TBI, paralysis, amputation, spinal injury). Unfortunately, these clients normally need ongoing care for the rest of their lives.

Putting these figures together, Andrew is able to determine the entire amount of your economic damages. This allows us to demand from the car insurance company every dime of the damage done to you, which in turn helps make you whole.

Non-Economic Damages

In South Carolina, non-economic damages include every negative effect the wreck had on you. Andrew likes to give his personal example: he loves hugging his two kids, cooking, and going to football games. If due to another's negligence, he can't bend down to hug his kids, he can't stand long enough to cook, and he can't sit long enough to travel to football games, then he should be compensated for these losses. The same is true for you. These damages include:

  • the actual injury;

  • the pain;

  • the mental anguish and emotional distress (e.g., humiliation or embarrassment);

  • loss of enjoyment of life (e.g., no longer participating in activities; inability to perform hobbies; inability to do something you used to do); and

  • other related inconveniences.

With Littlejohn Law, we ask that each client keep a journal of the negative effects. The journal serves two purposes: (1) it records the effects and (2) it helps the client remember everything they have been through. When it is time to demand money or go to trial, we compile this information into a single argument or document, which paints a complete picture of the non-economic damages.

Punitive Damages

These damages are to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from acting the same way. Again, the only route for this recovery is money. The concept is that the at-fault driver is punished by being forced to pay money to the victim due to the at-fault driver's actions. This is entirely separate from the actual damages.

In South Carolina, punitive damages are awarded when someone acts recklessly or willfully. Our courts have determined that a violation of a traffic statute is evidence of this recklessness. Therefore, in each case Andrew handles, he evaluates whether punitive damages may be recovered. In some cases, the punitive damages are high (e.g., a drunk driver or reckless 18-wheeler).

Ways to Recovery

Normally, there are three separate times that money is awarded to a client in a case.

  1. Pre-Suit Settlement: we compile all relevant information and send a demand letter, explaining the facts of the case and the damages; the car insurance company agrees to pay the client.

  2. Settlement During Suit: after filing suit and participating in discovery (the process of exchanging information, evidence, and testimony with the other side), both parties participate in mediation; during this process, the parties may agree on a settlement amount.

  3. Verdicts: the case moves all the way through litigation and trial, and a jury decides the amount of recovery a client receives.

Maximizing Recovery

Littlejohn Law maximizes the client's recovery by telling each client's story. To do this, we analyze all medical records, speak with treating physicians if necessary, obtain future care plans when proper, research the defendant's background and prior violations, compare the statutory violations with past verdicts, and make each case unique. Additionally, Andrew keeps an open line of communication with each client; speaking with our clients is the best way for Andrew to understand what they are going through. Our goal is for the insurance adjuster and opposing counsel to say, "This one is the John Doe case with the [facts of wreck]," as opposed to, "This is file number 1234ABC." The more we personalize the case, the better result we achieve.

Hiring the Right Attorney

From day one with your case, our firm focuses on trial preparation. The reason is two fold: (1) we want to be ready for trial, and (2) all the evidence needed for trial is helpful during the pre-litigation phase: this includes proof of damages. Evidence of your injuries, your medical bills, your lost income, the ways your life has been affected, and witnesses who can testify to the negative changes in you - these are all points that help us maximize your recovery, regardless of whether it comes in the form of a settlement or a jury verdict.

To get moving on your case now, email or call us. We look forward to taking some of the burden off of your shoulders so that you can focus on getting better.


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