Personal injury attorneys are commonly asked to value personal injury claims and often this occurs before the attorney has the factual data necessary to make a reasonable determination. Be very wary of attorneys who provide an opinion about the value of the case before they have done their homework on the facts.
This article was written to give car accident victims an idea of the things that goes into valuing a personal injury case. It is important to note that each case is unique to some aspect and that even the most skilled personal injury attorney cannot predict with certainty the case.
1. Insurance Coverage
One of the most important factors in evaluating a personal injury claim from car wreck is the amount of insurance coverage available to the claimant. Very bad damages do not always equal a very large personal injury case. The amount of insurance coverage available for the accident is probably the one factor in limiting the value of an otherwise huge personal injury case.
The state of Texas requires minimum coverage of $30,000 for liability and a great number of the people in the state of Texas carry only the minimum coverage due to the cost of insurance. Fortunately, many people also carry UIM coverage that can be used to add additional coverage when in a crash with an uninsured or underinsured person.
In Texas it is extremely difficult to try to collect a judgment from someone who does not have insurance coverage or someone who had inadequate insurance coverage. For that reason, it very rarely ever happens and most attorneys decline cases where the possibility of getting paid rests on trying to collect from an uninsured driver.
2. Your Treating Physician's Opinions
What you're treating physicians have to say about your injury and deposition or at trial has a big impact on the value of the case. Having said that, it is important to understand that some medical providers have more credibility than others. For instance, if you were treated by a chiropractor juries tend to discount their testimony and not buy into practice plans that include long-term care.
Likewise, doctors who are specialists tend to have more credibility with jurors and insurance companies. That is not to say that the treating physician is the end all to the case because the defense routinely hires doctors who always testify the victim was either uninjured, faking or not injured as bad as they are claiming.
Interestingly enough one of the major factors in valuing a personal injury claim from a car accident is the plaintiffs themselves. Factors such as the likability of the plaintiff, their profession, their claims history and their credibility in truthfully testified in deposition are all very important factors in valuing the claim.
For instance, if a person is injured in an accident but they have a history of making insurance claims for injury the credibility may be impacted for that reason alone. Likewise, the personal injury victim who forgets about other injuries that occurred prior to the accident is likely to be surprised with the value placed on the claim.
4. Liability Factors
Liability is a factor in a personal injury cases in Texas because we are a proportionate responsibility state. In other words, if the plaintiff was partly at fault for the accident the plaintiff's award can be reduced accordingly. If the plaintiff is found to be 51% or greater at fault the plaintiff generally takes nothing from the claim.
Aggravating factors such as getting hit by a drunk driver, driver who is texting or driving with a suspended license or who was witnessed driving recklessly at the time of the accident all play a part in the value of the case.
5. Your Attorney
Your attorney can play a big factor in the value of the case particularly in those cases involving serious injury or the loss of a loved one. The more serious the injury and insurance coverage, the more likely who the attorney is will play a role in the valuing of the case. For this reason, personal injury victims should choose an attorney who has established a reputation in the community.
6. Medical Bills
The amount of your medical bills that have been actually "paid or incurred" will play a part in the valuing of the case. On smaller cases the amount of the medical bills plays a big role in pre-litigation value. Texas has recently passed "tort reform" which greatly impacted the value of personal injury claims by reducing the amount that the plaintiff can claim for medical bills- by allowing only the amount paid or incurred (reductions for discounts). In effect, under the Texas tort reform law, it is the defendant who gets the benefit of hitting a person who is responsible and pays for health insurance.
Unfortunately, in Texas, the personal injury victim who is responsible and pays for their own health insurance does not recoup the value of paying for the insurance from the defendant. This is an injustice that consumers in Texas face as a result of our current political environment.
7. The Impact
While the amount of property damage should not pay a role in value in the case, the practicality of the matter is that it does. Cases where someone is injured but the property damage does not look bad or valued at less than cases where the impact looks serious.
Minor property damage cases often need litigation but that makes it very difficult for the plaintiff to come out with money due to the cost and expenses required. For this reason, many attorneys will not handle cases where the property damage is very minor because it is difficult for them to have a good result for their client.
While everyone wants to know the value of their case upfront, asking an attorney how much the case is worth before the medical records have been reviewed, witnesses interviewed and facts discovered is an exercise that utility. Potential client should be very wary of an attorney who will give an opinion on the value of the case prior to knowing the factors listed above.
Finally, it is noteworthy that value in a personal injury claim is more art than science and there is no substitute for experience. Personal injury victims should thoroughly research any attorney they are considering retaining to help them with their case.