What is my Injury Case worth?
I am frequently asked after interviewing a new accident injury client, "what is my personal injury case worth?" Like many aspects of the law, the answer to this question depends on the specific facts of each case. Each case is different and must be evaluated on its own merits. With that qualification, I can give some general information.
Liability and Damages
To collect money from an insurance company for injuries suffered in an accident, the injured person must be able to prove someone is responsible (liable) for the accident and that the injured person has been harmed (suffered damages). This is called proving "liability" and "damages". Liability, in its simplest form, means that someone did something wrong (was "at fault"), which caused harm to another person. Damages, in its simplest form, means someone has suffered harm. Medical expense, wage loss, pain and suffering, physical impairment are all examples of damages.
Proof of both "liability" and "damages" is necessary in order to recover money for injuries. There is no right to a settlement unless both "liability" and "damages" are provable.
There may be many causes of accidents and some of those causes can be the basis of liability and some cannot. An unexpected avalanche rushing down a mountain that sweeps a car off the highway is likely an "act of god" which won't be the basis for liability. On the other hand, when a drunk driver comes into oncoming traffic and collides with another car because he falls asleep, that would be the basis for liability. We say the drunk driver was "at fault" or "negligent".
What "Defenses" Does the Other Side Have to Your Claim?
Just because one person did something to cause an accident, does not mean they are responsible or "liable" for all the resulting damages. The accused may have "defenses" to the injured persons claim. A defense is something that will block or reduce the injured person's right to recover damages. There are lots of different defenses. A common example of a defense is "Comparative Negligence".
What is Comparative Negligence? It is "at fault" conduct by the injured person which caused or contributed to his/her own injuries. If the injured person caused or contributes to the accident, then he/she is entitled to nothing or at least much less than their actual damages. Two examples of conduct which may be treated as comparative negligence are: the injured driver was going too fast for conditions, and not wearing a seat belt. Both actions of the injured driver may have contributed to the accident or the extent of injuries. So, the conduct of the injured person can be used as a defense against his/her claim for damages.
When I analyze a client's damage case, I start by understanding how the accident has affected my client's life. What are his or her losses which were caused by the accident?
Economic losses are my first focus. Think of all the expenses you've had to pay because of this injury or money you have not earned because of being unable to work:
ambulance and EMT charges
emergency room visits
medical tests such as MRI's and X-ray's
surgery and physical therapy
lost earning from being off work
Medical expense and wage loss damages are known as "economic damages" because there is a specific "economic value" which can be proven. So really, any way that this injury has cost you money directly (weather that is lost income or expenses) counts as an economic loss.
Non-Economic losses are my next focus. Has the injured person suffered pain, physical impairment and emotional distress? These damages are known as "non-economic damages", because they are hard to place a specific economic value on.
Though the value of non-economic damages can be harder to prove than the value of economic damages, they are no less worthy of compensation. But to put a number on such damages is very difficult. This is where an experienced attorney evaluating your case can be of serious benefit to you.
What insurance or property is available to pay a court judgment?
Even if the injured person is able to prove "liability" and "damages" and the other side has no defenses, the case may still have little or no value. If the "at fault" party has no insurance and no assets available to collect from, the case has no value. As they say, you can't get blood from a turnip.
Valuing a serious injury case is not as simple as adding up numbers on a calculator or looking at the facts and guessing at its value; it takes experience and judgment and a complete understanding of the relevant law and facts of each specific case. For those reasons, an injured person should make sure they hire an experienced personal injury attorney to protect their interests, help them through the claims process and accurately value their claim. This is the best way to convert accident injuries to dollars.