While there are often news headlines touting multi-million dollar personal injury jury verdicts—sometimes even making the national news circuit if the injury was highly sympathetic or the verdict controversial—the reality of personal injury law is that the vast majority of claims quietly settle prior to trial. Negotiating a settlement prior to trial can provide a number of advantages to both parties by saving time and expense, by avoiding the uncertainty that comes when leaving a verdict in the hands of a judge or jury, and by reducing the emotional upheaval created by a stressful trial. However, for racial or ethnic minorities who are plaintiffs in personal injury cases, these settlements can often be thousands less than those awarded to white plaintiffs in similar circumstances. Read on to learn more about how racial and ethnic factors can come into play when computing loss of future earnings, as well as how you can fight against these assumptions in your own case and demand a fair settlement.
How do race and ethnicity impact the amount of money you can receive in a personal injury settlement?
Some personal injury cases are relatively simple and involve injuries that heal on their own and don't require permanent follow-up care or monitoring. Unfortunately, in other cases, you may be dealing with a severe, permanent impairment that can impact your ability to hold down a job or even care for yourself without assistance for the foreseeable future. If this is the case and the defendant's liability is proven, you'll be entitled to a judgment that includes not only your medical expenses and other costs but also your lost future earnings—a rough calculation of the amount of money the injury will prevent you from earning for the rest of your life.
There are a number of actuarial tables, census tabulations, and other complex data collections that are able to provide defense counsel with information on what an individual of your race, sex, age, and educational level would be expected to earn over the course of a career. Sadly, for those who are African-American, Hispanic, and/or female, these career earnings can often be hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars less than those of their white male counterparts due to the documented income and educational disparities between these populations. This can mean that the settlement amount you're offered during negotiations will be less than someone of a different race would receive, simply because you're not expected to attain the same level of education or amount of lifetime earnings as someone in a different demographic group.
How can you fight against the use of these figures in your own claim?
If you're currently engaged in settlement negotiations with the defendant and have been offered an amount in settlement of your claims, you should be able to ask for an itemized breakdown of what is included in this offer. This can let you see the price they've put on lost future earnings and compare this with your own calculations to see how close it is. You're always free to offer your own counter-offer pointing out factors that go against their analysis of future earnings (like your admission or acceptance into a degree program that would have boosted your earnings or even the average household income of your own immediate family members (if this bucks the statistical trend)).
This is the same type of evidence you'd put forth to a jury to explain why you're entitled to a certain amount, so it's always good to show the other side you're willing to take this to the mat—especially when they're faced with the proposition of explaining to a jury that your potential award is less because of the color of your skin. Contact a personal injury attorney for more information.Share