When people find out that I am a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney, the first question they usually ask me is the same – what is my case worth?
Given how common the question is, I thought it would be a good idea to take a little time and give some insight into how I answer the question.
First, let me give the short answer. Every case is unique. As such, it is impossible to tell someone how much they should expect to recover without a full analysis. Not only that, it is irresponsible.
There is no way I can, or should, try to answer this question without all of the necessary information. What are your doctors saying? What are your medical bills? What do you do for a living? The list goes on and on.
For an attorney to give you an accurate evaluation of what your case is worth requires a thorough evaluation of a lot of relevant information. That being said, after 25 years of practicing personal injury law, I have a pretty good idea of what a case is worth very quickly. Here’s just a handful of things that impact the worth of your personal injury lawsuit:
- How the incident occurred
- What are your injuries
- Are any of your injuries pre-existing
- How much medical care have you received
- How much medical care do you still need in the future
- Have you lost wages
- Are you going to be able to return to work
- What restrictions on your activities will you have
- How has your life changed
- Has your spouse suffered
- Have your children suffered
- And these are just to name a few!!
If you give me a quick summary, I can make a reasonable estimate. Still, to give a reliable answer, there are four categories I need to thoroughly evaluate.
A Common Myth About Case Value
Before I tell you what these are, let me debunk one common myth regarding the value of accident cases. I frequently hear people say they have heard their case is worth three (3) times the hard economic damages – medical bills and lost wages suffered to date. I even hear trained mediators tell my clients that they should expect to get 2 or 2 ½ times the value of these bills.
In a word – NO. This is simply not correct. There is no magic formula that allows you to determine the value of a claim. The value of your case is based on a very specific evaluation of the relevant categories we are about to discuss.
4 Key Factors for Personal Injury Case Worth
The categories of damage that determine what a case is worth include:
- Medical bills. This includes medical bills incurred up to the time case is ready to settle (Past meds) and those reasonably projected to be incurred after settlement and for the remainder of the injured person’s life (Future meds).
- Lost wages incurred through the date the case is ready to settle (Past lost wages) and those reasonably projected to be incurred after settlement for the remainder of the person’s life (Future lost wages).
- Pain and suffering incurred through the date the claim settles (Past pain and suffering) and that the injured party will continue to experience, after settlement, for the duration of his or her life. (Future pain and suffering)
- Loss of Consortium. If the injured party is married, his spouse is entitled to loss of consortium incurred both before and after the date the case is settled. (Past and future loss of consortium.)
Determining the Value of Your PI Case
In evaluating the claim, we look to the above factors. They are largely shaped by the severity of injury suffered. Severity of injury is demonstrated by the medical diagnosis, treatment received and the cost of the medical care received.
For instance, if an individual is treated by a chiropractor and has $3000 in medical bills incurred up until the time the doctor releases him from care, the presumption would be that the injury is not necessarily severe. On the other hand, if the person has had two surgeries and has incurred medical bills of $100,000, it would suggest the injured person has suffered greatly. This analysis is very important in determining the value of pain and suffering.
Examining Medical Bills From Your Injury
So in determining the value of a personal injury case, first, I look at the amount for medical bills incurred to date. Then I look to the medical bills that are likely to be incurred over the course of the injured person’s lifetime.
Here is where the role of the attorney is essential. Based on many years of experience, I have gained a great understanding about what type of medical care is required for many different types of injuries. I also am able to determine whether a person has made a good recovery or a substandard recovery.
Based on this information and review of medical records, it is quite common for me to go to the treating physician and discuss with him/her what the future medical care is likely to be as incurred by my client. Then, I have the doctor price out that care and indicate the care is likely to be received. This amount must be contemplated in the settlement amount.
Remember, the plaintiff only gets “one bite of the apple,” so to speak. This is not like a worker’s compensation case where you can get your medical care covered for the rest of your life. If you are going to require future medical care, it is going to have to be paid upfront in the settlement.
Considering Lost Wages Due To Injury
The next aspect of evaluating settlement value to a claim is to consider lost wages, both in the past and for the future. Obviously, it is relatively easy to determine what an individual has lost in terms of salary after being hurt. If he misses two weeks of work and doesn’t get paid, those two weeks need to be recovered in the settlement.
However, as to determining future lost wages, this requires the assistance of a highly skilled attorney. For instance, you may be back to work and earning your full salary. However, if you are doing a light duty job because of your injuries and your employer has indicated this may not continue, there is a very real risk of loss of future earnings. There are many things to consider under this category that one learns only through many years of experience.
Another example of this would be the situation where you are projected to receive surgery six months into the future. While you are not losing wages today, this future surgery may require you to miss several months of work while recovering. If you fail to consider this, you are not going to get fair value on your claim.
Evaluating Pain and Suffering
As to pain and suffering, again, we must consider how you have been affected to date and will continue to be affected into the future. Pain and suffering is exactly what it sounds like – the manner in which your injuries have disrupted your life.
It includes such things as the inability to do the activities of daily living you otherwise enjoyed like hiking, camping, playing basketball, cleaning your house, and going to the movies. It is amazing how one’s activities are completely disrupted by pain.
This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of establishing damages in a personal injury case. Claims adjusters see cases on a daily basis. They tend to become very callous and jaded. They do not believe anyone is actually suffering as much as they say.
If you had surgery and you have steel plates in your back, it is obvious you have suffered. However, if you have a soft tissue issue, meaning no broken bones or hard damages that are easily observed, it is much harder to get value. This is not fair.
It is well recognized that chronic muscle spasm and soft tissue injury can be just as debilitating, if not more so, than a condition that requires surgery. When even the simplest tasks, such as sitting, standing and walking, become difficult, you have a right to be compensated.
Factoring in Loss of Consortium
The final element of damage to consider is loss of consortium. This is the money that your spouse is entitled to as part of your claim. The law recognizes that not just the injured person suffers as a result of injury. The entire family suffers when a loved one is hurt.
For instance, a wife has surgery and her husband now has to come home from work and tend to all of her personal needs, such as dressing, bathing, cooking and other things that she would otherwise do herself. While these are activities that a loving spouse willingly does, the law states he or she is entitled to be compensated. Again, the challenge with this is to place a tangible dollar amount on this.
Determining PI Case Worth is Not A Simple Measurement
As you can see, determining what a case is worth is not simple. Certainly, using a simple multiplier will not do justice to your claim. After many, many years, I have learned the tools, strategies and “tricks of the trade” that let me get the most for your claim. I do not see any way you could do this without the benefit of a qualified attorney.
It is only through careful and diligent evaluation that we can determine what your case is worth and what should you expect to receive for your case. Of course, if the claims adjuster is not willing to pay that, your recourse is to go to trial.
Delivering Accuracy Regarding Your Case
Any attorney who tells you exactly what your case is worth on your first meeting is being irresponsible at best and deceitful at worst. Some may even offer a personal injury calculator that attempts to put a settlement value on your accident. After many, many years of doing this, I have a pretty good idea of how your case will turn out.
However, it is not possible for me to immediately tell you what your case is worth, and it is never possible for an automated tool to tell you. A significant factor involving the value of your claim is analysis of intangibles, something no machine (or inexperienced attorney) can do with any accuracy.
It is common practice among real estate agents to promise the moon and the stars when trying to get a listing. They will tell a seller how much they can get them. Once they get the listing, however, a month later they say- “no one has made an offer, time to lower the price.”
Unfortunately, some attorneys do this as well. They will tell a prospective client what they can get, give them false expectations, and then fail to deliver. This is an especially common ploy seen in many television commercials. If an attorney makes you promises of recovery without having all of the information, RUN in the other direction.
If You’ve Been Injured in Nashville? Get Help Today!
If you find yourself in a situation where you have been injured, give me a call. Let’s set up a time to meet, and analyze the facts together.
To determine what you should get, utilize and analyze the above factors. It will let you figure out what your case is worth. Consider all your damages incurred to date and those you will incur in the future. And remember, the surest way to get what you deserve is to find an attorney who is willing to fight the good fight for you and with you.