If you've got a personal injury case involving a shoulder injury, you're probably wondering how that specific injury might impact the value of any injury settlement or court award you might receive. Any exact dollar amount will obviously depend on the unique facts of your case, but there are a few common factors to consider. In this article, we'll discuss the key considerations when attempting to value a shoulder injury claim, and we'll also look at some examples of past verdicts and settlements where a shoulder injury came into play.
There are a variety of shoulder injuries with varying degrees of severity. Typically, an injury is to the tendons, muscles and ligaments, not a bone itself -- although fractures of the bones that meet at the shoulder joint can and do occur.
There two broad medical categories assigned to shoulder injuries. The first is “instability,” when one of the shoulder joints are out of alignment, causing pain when someone raises their arm and/or involving a feeling of the shoulder slipping out of place. The second category is “impingement,” when the shoulder muscles rub against the top of the shoulder blade. Impingement is typically a result of repetitive overhead arm movements.
Valuing an injury case means coming up with a best guess at what a jury might award the person who is suing for a shoulder injury (the plaintiff), while also considering what the person being sued (the defendant - usually represented by an insurance company) would be willing to ultimately pay. There's also the question of the amount each side might be willing to agree upon in order to settle the case before trial. That's obviously a lot to consider. But the two big factors in valuing any case are the extent of the plaintiff’s damages -- how bad the injury is -- and how likely the jury is to find the defendant liable if the case goes to trial.
Estimating with any degree of accuracy how much the plaintiff might receive is quite difficult for one main reason: at trial, it will most likely be a jury that ultimately decides just how much money the defendant or their insurance company must pay the injured plaintiff.
Some damages, like medical bills and lost wages, are easier to predict because "concrete" losses like these will mostly be based on the amount the plaintiff demonstrates he or she has paid or lost and/or will continue to pay or lose. For subjective, less concrete damages like “pain and suffering,” predictions are at best an educated guess based on awards in similar shoulder injury cases in the past. Because every case and every jury is different, even the best analysis will still only predict pain and suffering damages within a broad range.
How the shoulder injury affects a particular plaintiff is also key in valuing damages. For example, if the plaintiff was a very active person who enjoyed participating in a variety of sports and outdoor activities, but suffers a partially-disabling shoulder injury, his damages based on “loss of quality of life” will likely be higher in the eyes of a jury than if he had been relatively physically inactive before the injury. If the plaintiff had a prior shoulder injury that made him more susceptible to re-injury, his damages might go down. Additionally, if the shoulder injury temporarily or permanently prevents a plaintiff from making a living, the defendant could be liable for the full extent of lost wages or diminished earning capacity.
The other major factor in valuing a case is the likelihood that the defendant will be found liable at trial. If the plaintiff has little or no evidence proving the defendant was at fault for the plaintiff’s shoulder injury, the value of the case goes down considerably. Even if the potential damages are high, a defendant will be less willing to settle and more inclined to take her chances at trial. Similarly, where fault is up in the air, the plaintiff will be more inclined to accept a low settlement because he runs the risk of getting nothing at trial.
A workplace shoulder injury will typically only be paid out through your state's worker’s compensation insurance system. The standards of compensation vary from state to state, but if a plaintiff is not completely disabled by the injury and does not have high medical bills -- no surgery was required, for example -- the worker’s compensation payment may not be very high, especially compared to a personal injury settlement.
If your injury occurred while on the job, make sure you read through AllLaw's section on workers compensation claims.