Online Calculators for Personal Injury Cases

Now that the Internet is the primary source for information retrieval, it is no surprise that law firms are trying to reap the benefits of the digital age. In addition to the influx of online legal marketing, attorneys are developing calculator sites that use an algorithm to estimate the value of a case. The sites are finding success, but they are not without their critics.

How it Works

There is no universal, foolproof formula that can tell you what your legal case is worth. However, there is a way to arrive at a rough estimate of compensable damages by examining:

  • Your injury/medical expenses
  • Car and other property damage
  • Loss of earnings
  • Future lost income
  • Cost of future medical care

Some calculators also request information about the accident, including whether the user received medical care and where, whether a car's safety features deployed, and whether there were witnesses.

Pros

Saves time

  • You are getting immediate feedback when you input your information; you are not waiting days to hear back from a lawyer.

Consolidated information

  • You are getting information without having to piece together information from other sources. If you do enough of the time-consuming research, you will find the same estimated amounts from other online sites. You can also request to speak to an attorney on many of the sites, cutting out the time spent looking for a relevant law firm. On workers' compensation calculator site, MD Comp Law, a user can email an attorney directly.

Fair warning

  • Every calculator site should warn the user that the calculator provides an estimate and is not a substitute for legal advice. The user must still contact an attorney to attempt to recover the actual sum of damages. As soon as you click on the MD Comp Law calculator, for example, there is a large disclaimer explaining to the user that the site is for "information and estimation purposes only…and does not substitute for qualified legal advice."

Cons

� Only Estimation

  • Throwing out a monetary figure is almost impossible in the beginning of a case because a lawyer has not yet negotiated on behalf of the user. This is especially true when the medical costs are indefinite. AccidentValues's calculator, for instance, asks the user to input a dollar amount of "anticipated future medical bills." This, of course, can skew the final estimate - it is impossible to know the exact cost of one's future medical bills.

� Bad information

  • The estimation will be skewed if the user does not put in the correct information. Without the true numbers, the estimate will be off base.

An Ethical Issue

Is it ethically sound for a law firm to offer a site that could produce an estimation far from reality? While this question will elicit many different opinions, it is important to remember that the calculator sites do not offer legal advice. The sites act as stepping-stones toward better quality information; they direct users to the relevant lawyers.

Those without legal knowledge can feel vulnerable, even helpless, when entertaining the idea of filing claim for workers' compensation or a lawsuit in court. However, using a calculator site to get a ballpark number of what a case may be worth can give the user confidence to forward the legal process with an attorney. In this way, the sites give agency to the user in a way that could not exist without the Internet's resources. So, while critics of the calculator sites may allege that the estimates are misleading and even unprofessional, supporters see the sites as tools to empower and interact with potential clients who are clamoring for any information possible. An ethical issue can arise when there is no disclaimer reminding the user that the site offers a mere estimation, not a definitive dollar value nor legal advice.

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