The adult human body has more than 200 bones, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some, like the thigh bones, are large and strong, making it possible for us to stand, walk, and run. Others, like the bones of the middle ear, are delicate and fragile and allow us to hear the roar of a freight train or the whisper of a summer breeze.
Healthy bones are essential to our everyday lives. Many of us know the pain of a broken bone. We know that broken bones need medical care and that they take time to heal. We also know that they can be temporarily or even permanently disabling. For all of these reasons and many more, personal injury claims involving broken bones can have substantial settlement value.
If you've recently broken a bone because of someone else's negligence (carelessness) or intentional wrongdoing, you might be wondering how much a potential insurance claim or lawsuit could be worth. In this article we'll:
The four main types of bone fractures are displaced, non-displaced, closed, and open fractures.
A displaced fracture is a complete break of the bone into two or more pieces, where the broken ends move out of alignment. If the bone breaks into several pieces, it's called a "comminuted" displaced fracture.
A non-displaced fracture is a partial or complete break or crack of the bone, but the bone remains correctly aligned.
A closed fracture, sometimes called a "simple" fracture, is a broken bone that doesn't break through the skin.
An open fracture, sometimes called a "compound" fracture, is a broken bone that punctures the skin, creating an open wound.
Children's bones are growing. They can suffer the same types of fractures as adults, and some fracture patterns that are unique to kids. For example, if the bone bends and cracks but doesn't actually break, it's called a "greenstick fracture." A break that happens near the end of a long bone where bone growth happens is called a "growth plate fracture."
This list isn't exhaustive. There are many other kinds of broken bones. For example, compression fractures or burst fractures may happen in the spine. An avulsion fracture happens when a tendon or ligament pulls away from the bone and takes a piece of the bone with it.
The value of an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit is primarily based on the type and severity of injuries involved. Broken bone claims have value because they show up on an X-ray or a CAT scan, require costly medical care, interfere with the ability to work and engage in other life activities, and cause significant pain. And they're easy for insurance adjusters, judges, and jurors to understand because the average person will have two broken bones in their lifetime.
Here are the most important factors you should consider when you put a value on your broken bone claim.
Like any other injury, broken bones vary widely in both kind and severity. A minor, non-displaced finger fracture, while painful and inconvenient, isn't life-threatening. The same can't be said, though, for a skull fracture or an open thigh fracture.
In addition, a broken bone is rarely an isolated injury. If you're in a serious car accident, you might suffer several broken bones together with other internal injuries. If you slip and fall on snow or ice and break your ankle, it's possible that you'll also strain or tear tendons or ligaments. In many cases, the value of your fracture injuries will be influenced by other injuries you suffer.
Some broken bones heal completely and don't cause any long-term problems. Others are more likely to cause permanent pain, disability, or disfigurement. For example, growth plate fractures can impair proper bone growth and lead to lifelong disability and disfigurement. A fracture on the surface of a bone that forms a joint with another bone (like a wrist or ankle bone) can cause traumatic arthritis in that joint.
Talk to your doctor about the long-term effects of your broken bone. Ask your doctor to make a note in your medical records of potential complications you may encounter in the future. You're entitled to fair compensation for both your past and future injuries. Documenting future injuries in your records makes it more likely you'll get them covered in your settlement.
Finally, you're allowed to recover for "intangible" injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, disability and disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life. These losses can be difficult to value. We'll talk more about valuing them in "Your Medical Expenses and Damages," below.
The medical treatment you receive is tied to your injuries. An open or severely displaced fracture will need surgical repair, meaning a hospital stay and lengthy, extensive post-operative care. A simple broken finger, on the other hand, might heal with little more than a splint followed by some occupational therapy.
Treatments that involve surgery and lengthy immobilization will be especially difficult and painful. Depending on your injuries, you might require supportive care for daily activities such as dressing, meal preparation, eating, bathing, bathroom needs, and more. Your doctor will order physical or occupational therapy to help you recover strength and range of motion.
It's important that you comply as best you can with your doctor's treatment orders. If you discontinue treatment without the doctor's okay, the insurance company will argue that any lasting problems you experience are your fault for failing to do as your doctor instructed.
Medical expenses play an important role in calculating the damages you can recover. To understand why let's review the kinds of damages you can recover.
In a personal injury case, including a case involving broken bones, you're allowed to collect two kinds of damages.
First, you're entitled to "economic" (also called "special") damages. Economic damages include your medical expenses, the costs of medical equipment like crutches or a wheelchair, charges for therapy, and similar out-of-pocket expenses.
In most broken bone cases, medical expenses will be the largest category of economic damages. Remember, your settlement should include payment for both past and future medical care. If your doctor has told you that you'll need ongoing care, make sure you include the costs of that care in your settlement demand. Valuing future medical care can be complicated, and it isn't something you want to do on your own. You should hire a lawyer to guide you through the process.
Second, you can recover "noneconomic" (also called "general") damages. These are damages to compensate you for "intangible" injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and disability and disfigurement. In most personal injury cases, insurance adjusters and attorneys use a multiplier to arrive at an estimate of these losses. Your medical expenses play an important role here, too.
To put a value on your noneconomic damages, multiply your total medical expenses (past and future) by the multiplier you've chosen. In a typical personal injury case, the multiplier might be two or three times your medical expenses. For instance, if your medical expenses are $15,000 and the multiplier is 3, then a starting point for your noneconomic damages is $45,000.
The multiplier goes up based on the severity of your injuries, the complexity of your treatment, and the difficulty of your recovery. Suppose, for example, that you suffer an open, comminuted fracture of both bones in your forearm. To make matters worse, you develop a serious post-operative infection, requiring several surgeries and powerful antibiotics to get under control. In total, your recovery takes more than a year and your medical expenses exceed $250,000. In a case like this, a multiplier of 7, 8, or even more might be appropriate.
If your claim involves serious injuries and a complicated recovery, you'll need an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you get a fair settlement. Don't try to go it alone.
Many states put a limit, or "cap," on noneconomic damages. Damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other intangible losses can be the largest part of your settlement. If your state has enacted caps, the value of your case will be significantly reduced. Before you settle, you should consult with an experienced attorney to explore possible alternatives.
Lost income is part of your economic damages. You can recover for past and future lost income. You'll need proof of both.
Chances are you missed some work if you broke a bone. If you've made a full recovery and returned to the job, proving your past income loss is pretty simple. Just contact your employer's payroll or human relations office and ask for a letter documenting the time you missed and the income you lost. Be sure to include any sick days or paid time off you used to cover your absence.
Things get more complicated if you're looking to recover for lost future earnings. This might be the case, for example, if:
If any of these describe your case, you should be fairly compensated for your lost future income, vocational retraining costs, or both. You'll need witnesses—medical and vocational rehabilitation experts—to prove your inability to work and calculate your future damages. And you'll need an experienced attorney to help you with these expert witnesses.
The value of your settlement or verdict is likely to be influenced by these personal characteristics.
Future damages for medical care, loss of earning capacity, and noneconomic injuries like pain, suffering, and emotional distress will depend on your age and life expectancy. The longer you're expected to live, the greater these damages likely will be.
Your occupation is important for a couple of reasons. First, what you do for a living drives your future earning potential. The more money you were able to earn before your injury, the higher your pre-injury earning potential was, and the greater your lost future earnings might be.
The second reason is related to the first. Suppose you suffer a hand crush injury. If you're a neurosurgeon or a concert pianist, that injury could be career ending. But if you work as a store manager or a college instructor, you'll be able to continue that career once you've recovered. The significance of your injury, in other words, might turn on what you do for a living.
Your general health and medical history play a role in calculating your life expectancy. In some cases, insurance companies or juries will put extra weight on these factors. If you've had lots of past medical issues or a complicated health history, the value of your personal injury claim might be less. If you've had a preexisting injury to the same part of your body, that's also likely to reduce the value of your claim.
This shouldn't be a factor but often is. A likable person will generate more sympathy from a jury (if the case goes to trial) than someone who isn't.
What happens if you're also partly at fault for the accident? In most states, the value of your claim is reduced by your share of the blame. Here's an example. Say your damages total $200,000. If the other party was 100% to blame, then the value of your case is $200,000. Now suppose you're 20% at fault. In most states, you must reduce the value of your case by $40,000 (20% of $200,000), meaning your case is worth $160,000.
Check your state's contributory and comparative negligence laws to see what happens when both sides are at fault. In a few states, if you share any fault for the accident, that will destroy your claim entirely. If this is the law in your state, you'll need to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.
These examples are provided only for illustrative purposes. You should not view these verdicts as indicative of the value of broken bone cases in general, or of your case in particular. Keep in mind, too, that big verdicts get publicized while smaller ones often go unmentioned.
$6 million verdict for a 13-year-old middle school student who tripped over a cable in gym class, breaking her arm and elbow. The student developed arthritis in her elbow and can't completely extend her arm. The jury found her 25% at fault.
$6 million-plus verdict for a 73-year-old man who broke his back after falling 10 feet from the first tee of a golf course. The fall happened at night and the golf course attorney argued that the man was drunk. He was found 50% at fault for the accident.
$3.9 million verdict for a woman injured in a boating accident who suffered a broken pelvis, a broken rib, a concussion, and a collapsed lung.
$5.6 million verdict for a woman injured in a boating accident who suffered a broken pelvis and had to have her spleen removed. The verdict included $500,000 for a future hip replacement.
$2.9 million verdict for a man driving a moped who hit a low-hanging telecom wire. He suffered a broken skull and jaw, together with hearing loss.
Thinking about filing an insurance claim or lawsuit after a broken bone injury? Your best first step might be to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer.