How much is my personal injury case worth?
The question has been asked a hundred different ways: What’s my case worth? How much is my personal injury case worth? How much can I get for a car accident? How much does the insurance company have to pay me?
When you have been injured in an accident, it is only natural to ask one of the above questions. After all, you now have medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and so on. Who is going to pay for all of this and how much will they pay? What about all the pain and suffering you experience? How much is your pain and suffering worth and who is going to pay it? Can you still make a financial recovery if the person that caused you your injuries does not have insurance? What if you were partially responsible for the accident?
As you see, when you have been injured in an accident, one question leads to many, many more.
The simple answer is there is no hard and fast rule for exactly how much you can recover in an injury case. That said, there are several common factors which influence your financial recovery. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive, but keep reading to learn about some factors that will affect how much you recover in your personal injury case.
Factors which determine the value of an injury case
Percentage of liability
For example, in a motor vehicle accident, how much at fault was the defendant driver? If you were rear-ended while stopped at a red light, it’s much easier to make the case the defendant was 100% at fault. What about when you are involved in an accident at a four-way stop? This is a situation where the insurance company might claim you didn’t have the right of way and caused the accident, or they might claim you were equally at fault for causing the accident and therefore deny paying you for your injuries.
For example: in a motor vehicle accident, if you are treated in the emergency room, have soft-tissue injuries, i.e., no broken bones, and are given a day or two off of work, that case will typically have a lower value than if your arm is broken in the same accident. Put simply and generally speaking, the more significant your injuries are the more your case is worth.
Visible property damage
Imagine you are shown two pictures of the rear of similar cars. One picture shows a small dent in the bumper and some scratches, the other shows the rear bumper has been completely ripped from the body and the trunk is crushed in a couple of feet. Just using those two pictures, can you decide which car suffered the hardest impact? So can jurors. Insurance companies know this, so when you can show significant property damage, this will often lead to a higher settlement/verdict.
Visible personal injuries
Imagine you are shown two pictures following a motor vehicle accident: one of the driver and the other of the passenger who were both in the same car. The driver’s picture shows some bruising along her shoulder where her seat belt would have been in contact with her body. The passenger has a one inch cut on the right-side of her head with visible swelling as a result of striking her head on the passenger side window and door. Just focusing on the obvious injuries and only using the pictures, who was hurt worse? Most jurors would say the passenger. The insurance companies know this, and if you can demonstrate more significant personal injuries your case will typically be worth more.
John Doe was injured in a motorcycle accident. Ron Doe, John’s brother, is involved in a separate motorcycle accident the same day. At John’s trial, his attorney shows that John was billed $76,789.32 for the treatment of injuries he incurred in his accident. In Ron’s trial, his attorney shows that Ron was billed $3,234.11 for the treatment of injuries incurred in his motorcycle accident? Without knowing any more than the above, who was hurt worse? John’s bills are significantly higher, and therefore, it would stand to reason that his injuries were more severe and necessitated more treatment than Ron. While this isn’t always the case, many times it is, and insurance companies know it. Settlements and verdicts tend to have a direct correlation with the amount of medical bills, i.e., the higher your bills, the higher your settlement.
Even if you establish the defendant caused the accident, you still have to prove the injuries you suffered were the result of the accident. For example, a negligent driver rear-ended you at a red-light causing very little bumper damage and you subsequently received treatment for your back injury. Due to the low impact nature of the accident, some insurance companies will claim you must already have had a back injury because such a low impact could not have injured you, and that your auto accident was therefore not the cause of your need for medical care. As unfortunate as it is, there are insurance companies who train their adjusters to downplay the significance of your injuries from the very first phone call. Pre-existing injuries can be used by an insurance company to deny you compensation.
Quality of care
Susan and Alice are riding together when they are struck by a negligent driver. The next day, both of are having neck and back stiffness. Susan goes to her primary care physician who recommends four weeks of physical therapy. Alice goes to a chiropractor who treats her for four weeks. They both incur the same amount of medical bills. Without knowing any more than the above, which case will typically settle for a higher amount? Susan’s case is probably worth more in settlement or verdict. Jurors tend to trust and value the treatment from medical doctors and physical therapists more so than chiropractic treatment.
The simple fact of the matter is that injured people who are represented by an attorney will typically recover significantly more than an injured person who tries to negotiate a settlement on their own. There are some people out there that refuse to believe this because, after all, they are “good at negotiating” or they "won’t let the insurance company push them around.” That sounds well and good, but the truth is that insurance companies will NOT treat an unrepresented person as seriously as they will someone who is represented by a personal injury attorney. Why is this? It’s very simple: an unrepresented person does not pose a threat to the insurance company. Insurance companies are risk averse, meaning they do not want to risk paying more money than they absolutely have to pay. When they are dealing with an unrepresented person, they instantly know several things that make them comfortable holding back the maximum settlement value: (1) you do not evaluate cases for a living, (2) as a result, although you might have an idea as to what your case is worth, you are usually going to value a case far below its true value, (3) you have no leverage, e.g., you do not pose a threat by filing suit, and (4) if you did file suit on your own, the insurance company would work feverishly to undermine your suit, all to your detriment, and their benefit. What they will do, however, is either offer you pennies on the dollar in the hopes that you will sign a release and not hire a personal injury attorney, or they will delay, delay, and delay some more, then try to dangle some money in front of you in the hopes that you will be worn out and desperate for money. It happens all the time. Medical bills are mounting, collections agents are calling, next thing you know, that small settlement they offered last month is “better than nothing,” and an unrepresented person signs a release for the small check, not knowing they left thousands, maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table.
You see, the only thing an unrepresented person can threaten is to file suit. The insurance company has more resources, experience, and skill than an unrepresented person. On the other hand, a personal injury attorney is a threat to the insurance company. I can evaluate a case and determine the value, put a tremendous amount of pressure on the insurance company to settle, and if the case goes to trial, not only vigorously prosecute your injury claim, but can also put additional pressure on the insurance company by asking the jurors to pay even more than the insurance policy.
Statements and admissions
Insurance companies love to get recorded statements from injured people. While there are some situations where you are required to provide a recorded statement and others where you are not, any time you give a recorded statement without an attorney you are setting yourself up to minimize your financial recovery. Insurance companies do not make money by giving it away. So, if they can get you to give a recorded statement right after the accident when you have not been treated, do not know how badly you have been hurt, are still trying to figure what happened, etc., you better believe they will try to use your own words against you after you incur medical bills, realize how badly you are injured, and have the time to properly articulate how the accident happened. I have seen numerous times where a client, who spoke with an insurance company before retaining me, tried to explain why the other driver caused the accident, but because they had not been back out to the scene, did not review overhead photography of the area, had not reviewed the defendant's statements to the police, etc., they were confused by the insurance adjuster's questions and ended up making statements that sounded right to them at the time, but they realized later they meant to say something else. This can create an unnecessary obstacle in your case.
Delay in treatment
It's a very simple concept: people who are injured get treatment as soon as possible and complete their treatment to the best of their ability. Here's an example: John Doe and Frank Doe are in car wreck. John Doe goes to the ER, follows up with his primary care physician, who then prescribes six weeks of physical therapy. Frank Doe goes home following the accident and tries using a heating pad and over the counter pain relievers for a couple of weeks. He eventually goes to the ER, follows up with his primary care physician, who then prescribes six weeks of physical therapy. Even though their care was exactly the same, who do you think was hurt worse? Most people would pick John because he immediately sought treatment. What if I told you that one of them was overplaying their injuries, who do you think it is? Most people would choose Frank for the just the opposite reason: Frank waited to get treatment, and therefore it follows, if he was really hurt that bad, he would have went to the ER right away. Juries think this way too, and rightfully so.
Completion of treatment
Most people follow the recommendations of their doctors, which quite frankly, makes perfectly good sense. After all, that's why you go to the doctor, right? What about when a doctor, who has listened to your complaints, examined you, ran tests, etc., recommends a certain course of treatment, and.... you only do half of what your doctor recommended? Let's look at it objectively: John Doe and Frank Doe are in an accident, both have similar complaints and injuries, and go to Dr. X. After examining John and Frank, he gives them both prescriptions for four weeks of physical therapy. John goes through all four weeks of therapy, and on his final evaluation has made a good recovery although he still has some unresolved pain and range of motion deficiencies. Frank, however, only goes for the first three weeks, misses two of those appointments because of work, and never has a final evaluation. According to Frank, he could not complete the last week of physical therapy because of work, family, whatever, obligations. He also has unresolved pain and range of motion deficiencies. Who do you think was injured more severely? Just like a delay in treatment, people who do not complete their treatment appear to not be injured as bad as someone who does. Sure, we all have other obligations that can make weekly medical treatment difficult to attend, but people who are hurt will find a way to get the treatment they need so they can get better. Juries see it the same way.
Healthcare providers will often place a lien against your personal injury financial recovery for unpaid balances. These liens can add up quickly, and a personal injury attorney can determine exactly what you have to pay under the law regardless of how much a purported lien holder claims you owe.
Subrogation interests occur, for example, when your health insurance carrier pays for your treatment of injuries and then asserts a subrogation interest against your personal injury financial recovery. In essence, your health insurance company is asserting their right to be refunded because you are recovering money from another party for the same injuries that your healthcare insurance carrier paid you. I determine the validity of liens and subrogation interests in each case and reduce the amount my clients have to pay to the minimum allowed by law.
If you are injured in accident and have ever previously injured the same part of your body, the insurance company will try to argue that your “new” injuries are, at least in part, due to the previous injury you sustained. If a lawsuit is filed in your case, the insurance company will want to know your entire medical history because if they can find anything they can argue is related to your current injuries, they will. Depending on the true relevance of your prior injuries, this can certainly have the effect of reducing your financial recovery. See the section on recorded statements above. Giving a recorded statement when you have had similar injuries, or had previous injuries to the same area of your body, can make or break your case. It is imperative my clients are fully prepared for the questions they will have to answer so that they can give accurate and honest answers while eliminating the defense adjuster/attorney's attempts to twist their words.
You may very well have a case worth $1 million dollars, but if the defendant only has a minimum policy of $25,000 and no assets, and you don’t have underinsured coverage, you will not make a full financial recovery. This may come as a surprise, but the majority of drivers who have insurance, only have the state minimum. What if an uninsured driver causes you injuries? If they do not have assets, which most uninsured drivers do not have, you can still make a recovery under your uninsured coverage.