How Much is My Personal Injury Case Worth?
Probably the most common question asked of a personal injury lawyer is “How much do you think my case is worth?” Any lawyer who gives an immediate answer purporting to know the value of a case is not telling the truth. The short answer is that only 12 impartial jurors can assign a value on the case. Having said that, a good personal injury lawyer will be able to analyze a case and help set reasonable expectations.
This question, “How much do you think my case is worth?” is usually asked at the beginning of the case and before the attorney has had time to examine the facts of the case, the nature and extent of the victim’s injuries, read the medical records, interviewed the doctors, spoken with damages witnesses, investigated the defendants, determined venue (where the case is to be filed), and determined liability. There are many factors that determine a reasonable settlement or verdict value. No two cases are alike. We have worked on a case where we resolved it before trial for almost $300,000 and the client only had $3,000 in medical bills; we’ve worked on a case where it resolved at arbitration for $150,000 but our client had suffered head trauma. Cases are very fact specific and a lawyer should not tell you what your case is worth without really digging in.
Contrary to popular opinion, simply multiplying by a factor of 3 an injured person’s medical expenses and lost wages to arrive at a reasonable settlement figure fails to consider many other considerations that affect each case. For example, an individual with 3 or 4 months of neck pain from a whiplash injury who has $15,000 in chiropractic bills may not reasonably expect an offer of $45,000 from the defendant’s insurer.
Most insurance companies like to use software programs where certain data is inputted to arrive at an estimate they feel is likely to be within the range of reasonableness. Good personal injury lawyers don’t use software programs. Good personal injury lawyers do their homework on each case.
Some factors considered include:
- Is liability disputed? Will the plaintiff be found comparatively at fault?
- What is the property damage?.
- Have juries in this venue historically returned conservative verdicts or generous verdicts?
- Who is the plaintiff? Does he have a stable job, family, a criminal record?
- Are there lost wages? A plaintiff who was unable to work for several months may have a higher valued case. Is there a reasonable argument for future lost wages?
- What are the medical expenses?
- What is the nature of the injury? A fractured limb, facial bone, pelvis, or vertebrae has considerably more value than a whiplash injury. Was surgery performed?
- Did the plaintiff suffer a permanent injury? Is there a need for ongoing medical care and expenses?
- If the plaintiff suffered a disfiguring injury, how visible is it and where is it located? A prominent leg scar for a young woman is probably worth more than that for an elderly man.
- If there is a claim for emotional distress, and how credible is it? Was the accident particularly horrific? Did a psychologist or psychiatrist diagnose the plaintiff with PTSD?
- What are the available insurance limits? Is underinsured coverage available?
- What is the defendant like?
- Are you able to establish a basis for punitive damages?
Another consideration is litigation and court expenses, the time before the case goes to trial, and reimbursement of medical expenses to the medical plan insurer.
Most plaintiff lawyers have in their contingency fee agreement a provision that their fees will increase to 40% if the case is filed. This is because of the considerable work and time that the attorney must now expend, such as deposing various witnesses, preparing you for deposition, drafting trial briefs, researching and presenting various motions, and overall preparation for trial. Litigation costs can be substantial. Your doctors and other expert witnesses may charge $500 or more per hour for a deposition. If they testify at trial, they may charge a minimum fee of several thousand dollars that can be higher if they are in court all day, even if that time includes waiting outside the courtroom for them to be summoned for testimony. There are also subpoena and service of process fees, filing fees, costs of deposition transcripts, jury and court reporter costs. But, and this important, if you and your lawyer feel you should file suit and get ready for trial, don’t be scared. Don’t ever feel intimidated by the insurance company or their lawyers. Your lawyer should guide you as you decide what is in your best interest. And remember this fact: your lawyer only gets paid if you get paid which means your lawyer is taking the risk with you which means he believes in you and in your case.
Your attorney should have years of experience handling personal injury cases and dealing with juries and judge. Your attorney should generally able to give you an informed estimate of what you can expect to settle for prior to trial and what you risk if you do go to trial. The ultimate decision is yours, and that decision should only be based on you asking questions and being fully informed and educated.