The knee is one of the largest and most complex joints in the human body, connecting the bones of the upper and lower leg. All of the parts of the knee—bones, muscles, meniscus, ligaments, tendons—must work together for the knee to function. Healthy knees allow us to walk, run, climb stairs, sit down, stand up, ride a bike, bend, squat, maintain our balance, and perform many other day-to-day and work-related activities.
Knees are strong, but vulnerable to injury because of their complexity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 66,650 knee injuries in 2020, third only to back injuries (128,220) and hand injuries (102,350) as the most common work-related injury in the United States.
If you've suffered a knee injury at work or in an accident that wasn't your fault, you may be wondering if you have a potential personal injury claim and how much your claim might be worth. In this article, we'll:
The knee is made up of four main structures: bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. The most common knee injuries include:
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. If you're a sports fan, you've probably read about a player landing on the injured list after suffering an ACL injury. ACL injuries are common in sports but can happen during any sudden shift in direction, awkward landing, or physical trauma to the knee joint.
Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injuries. The PCL is located behind the ACL. PCL injuries typically result from a blow to the front of the knee, like when a bent knee hits the dashboard in a car accident.
Meniscal tears. Meniscus tears are among the most common knee injuries. Menisci are two rubbery discs of cartilage that help cushion the knee joint. The meniscus can tear from acute trauma or as a result of wear and tear over time.
Tendon tears. The quadriceps and patellar tendons form a pulley mechanism to straighten the knee. Tendon tears can happen while running and jumping, but they can also happen as a result of a slip and fall or from direct force to the front of the knee.
Fractures. The most common broken bone around the knee is the patella (kneecap), though the ends of the femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone) can also fracture where they meet to form the knee joint. Fractures are serious injuries that are typically caused by direct falls onto the knee or sharp blows to the knee.
Dislocations. A dislocation happens when the bones of the knee are completely or partially out of place. Dislocations can be caused by an anatomical abnormality in the structure of the knee or by falls, forceful blows, and sudden changes in direction when one leg is planted in the ground.
Many knee injuries are sports-related, but not all. Falls, collisions, awkward twists, and overuse can cause significant knee pain and damage. If your knee injury is caused by someone else's negligence (carelessness) or intentional misconduct, you may have a viable personal injury claim.
Some of the most common types of personal injury claims involving knee injuries include:
As with all injury-related claims, the dollar value of a knee injury claim varies dramatically based on who was injured and how the injury happened. Insurance adjusters, lawyers, judges, and jurors generally consider the following factors when valuing a knee injury claim.
Like all injuries, knee injuries vary in severity from minor scratches to disabling fractures and tendon tears. As a rule, so-called "hard injuries" are more serious and tend to be awarded higher damage awards than soft tissue injuries.
A hard injury is an injury, like a broken patella, that can be seen and measured on an X-ray or similar test. Hard injuries typically require physical repair by a doctor.
Most knee injuries, like ligament strains and tears, are soft tissue injuries. Some soft-tissue knee injuries, like a torn ACL, can be seen on an MRI and may require surgical repair. Others, like sprains and strains, are less obvious, but still painful and disruptive to your life. Be sure to carefully document all of your symptoms and your course of treatment to have a shot at getting fair compensation for soft tissue injuries.
As you may expect, disabling knee injuries that take a year or more to recover from are worth far more than minor knee injuries that heal in a matter of weeks or months. Talk to your doctor about the long-term impact of your knee injury. Be sure your doctor notes any potential limitations and complications in your medical records.
Your medical treatment is closely linked to the seriousness of your injury. More serious injuries tend to require more invasive and longer-lasting medical care, which can move you up the compensation ladder. For example, a torn quadriceps tendon may require extensive diagnostic testing, surgical repair, post-operative care, and a lengthy course of physical and occupational therapy. A knee sprain, on the other hand, may only require an ice pack and time to heal.
Be sure to seek out the "right" medical treatment. Insurance companies will more readily compensate you for medical treatment by doctors, nurses, and physical therapists than for treatment by nontraditional healers like chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists.
It's important to follow your treatment plan. If you disregard your doctor's order to use crutches for a certain amount of time or fail to complete physical therapy, the insurance company will likely argue that any lingering knee issues you have are your fault.
Another major factor in valuing your knee injury claim is the likelihood that the person you're suing (the "defendant") will be found legally responsible for your injury at trial. If you don't have evidence to show that the defendant was at fault for your knee injury, the value of your case goes down dramatically.
Even if your potential damages are high, defendants are less willing to settle and more likely to roll the dice at trial when liability is unclear.
The value of your knee injury claim is also impacted by some of your personal characteristics, including your:
For example, if you're a dynamic college basketball player whose career is cut short by a devastating knee injury, your damage award will likely be much higher than an award for a semi-retired office worker who suffers a similar injury.
If someone is liable for injuring your knee, that person typically must pay for your:
Out-of-pocket expenses, like medical bills and lost income, are called "special" or "economic" damages. Harder to measure damages, like pain and suffering, are called "general" or "noneconomic" damages.
Let's take a closer look at these categories of damages.
Medical expenses will likely be the largest part of your economic damages in a knee injury claim. Examples of medical expenses include:
When you calculate your personal injury settlement value, total your medical expenses separately from your other out-of-pocket costs. Insurance adjusters often use your medical expenses to come up with a ballpark figure for your pain and suffering and other intangible losses.
If you missed work because of your knee injury, get proof of your lost income. If you're employed, get a letter from your supervisor to document your lost wages and benefits. If you're self-employed, you'll need proof of lost income and business opportunities. For example, if you're a self-employed contractor, you'll need to document jobs you missed and jobs you missed out on bidding because of your knee injury.
If your injury is so severe that you're unable to return to the type of your work you did prior to your injury, you'll likely need to hire an expert to calculate your future lost earnings. Talk to a lawyer if you are dealing with a permanent injury that impacts your livelihood.
You're entitled to compensation for all out-of-pocket expenses you paid because of your knee injury. If you had to hire someone to help clean your house, drive you to appointments, or take care of your kids, you should seek reimbursement.
You may also ask for reimbursement for things you had to miss because of your knee injury, like nonrefundable travel, classes, or work conferences.
Most economic damages are fairly easy to tally up. You can look at receipts to figure out how much you've spent on medical bills or a pay stub to figure out your lost income, but there is no precise way to put a dollar figure on noneconomic damages, like pain and suffering.
Most insurance adjusters and lawyers use a damages formula to estimate noneconomic damages. Here's how the formula works: Your total medical expenses are multiplied by a number, usually between 1 and 5. The number—called the "multiplier"—is chosen based on the seriousness of your injury and other factors.
For example, let's say you broke your kneecap in a car accident. The other driver rear-ended you and is 100% at fault for the accident. Your medical expenses are $8,000. The at-fault driver's insurance company will try to use a multiplier of 2, valuing your noneconomic damages at $16,000. You or your lawyer will argue for a multiplier of 3 or more. You have an X-ray to show that you fractured a bone because of the at-fault driver's negligence. You had no chance to avoid the accident. Now you're stuck in a cast while your bone heals. If the patellar fracture is complex and surgery is needed to repair the kneecap, you'll be pushing for an even higher multiplier.
Learn more about what multiplier to use when valuing your personal injury claim and use our calculator to estimate the value of your claim.
It can be hard to figure out whether to file an insurance claim or lawsuit after a knee injury. The following questions may help guide your decision-making:
Only you can decide what's best for you and your family, but talking to a lawyer can help you figure out if, when, and where to file a lawsuit.
Here are a few real-world examples of knee injury settlements and verdicts to give you an idea of the potential value of a knee injury claim. Each knee injury case is unique. You shouldn't view these settlements or verdicts as an indication of the value of knee injury cases generally or your case in particular. Also, keep in mind that big verdicts get publicized while smaller ones often go unmentioned.
If you're thinking about filing an insurance claim or lawsuit after a knee injury, talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can answer your questions and offer you an informed opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of your case and the value of your claim.
Nearly all personal injury lawyers provide free consultations and offer their services on a "contingency fee" basis. If you win your case or reach a settlement, you'll pay your lawyer a percentage of the money you receive, typically 33%. But if you lose your case, you won't have to pay your lawyer a fee.
Learn more about when to hire a personal injury lawyer and how to find the right personal injury lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.