Settlements: What is My Case Worth?
With the rise of social media platforms, attorney advertising is no longer limited to television commercials and billboards. We all know the advertisements boasting large settlement awards by attractive paid actors claiming to be clients. While this tactic is meant to attract business, it is essentially of no value in helping determine what your potential personal injury case may be worth.
"What is my case worth?" The ultimate question and one I am asked in nearly every initial client meeting. The answer is far from simple. Every case is different, unique, and requires an individualized assessment. That assessment cannot be made without considering several factors such as the nature and extent of damages, type of claim, strength of evidence establishing liability, and insurance coverage. Any attorney that promises a certain settlement amount in this early stage and without a clear understanding of all these factors is not being truthful.
There is no certain dollar amount specific to any particular injury. I was once asked, "Don't you have a chart that tells you how much a broken arm is worth?" I don't. No one does, nor should they because no injury affects any two people the same.
Factors that are considered in assessing a claim for damages include but are not limited to:
- The severity of a particular injury;
- Whether the injury is permanent, resolved or has permanent effects: (arthritis, scarring, etc...);
- The extent, costs, and length of medical treatment required and/or complications from medical treatment;
- Effect on daily activities and enjoyment of life (lost time from work, inability to complete daily tasks, etc...)
For example, if I sustained a torn rotator cuff in a motor vehicle accident and a pitcher for the NY Yankees sustains the exact same injury to his pitching shoulder, the nature and extent of our damages will vastly differ. Although the type of injury and severity may be the same, the claim for lost time from work and effect on daily activities and enjoyment of life would be significantly larger for the major league pitcher, who would be unable to pitch, than it would be for me, who likely still would be able to do my job.
Further, it is imperative not to jump to a determination of a case's worth because the full extent and nature of damages generally cannot immediately be determined. For example, it is important to wait for a doctor's determination that a person has met medical maximum improvement or that an injury has fully resolved prior to assessing worth. Future medical treatment, length of treatment, and cost of treatment are all factors that must be considered and can only be known over time.
Similarly, there is no certain dollar amount specific to any particular type of claim. Just like with injuries, every medical malpractice, motor vehicle accident or premises liability case (slip and fall, dog bites, etc...) are all unique and require an individualized assessment. In general, a plaintiff bringing a claim must prove that a defendant(s) was negligent and that negligence caused injuries.
The value of a case is the nexus between the strength of the evidence of the defendant's negligence in causing the injuries and the extent of the plaintiff's damages.
Additionally, factors like a plaintiff's failure to mitigate damages or any level of comparative fault can affect case value. For example, a plaintiff bringing a claim for damages related to head, neck, back, and leg injuries sustained as a result of a motor vehicle accident caused by a driver that ran a stop sign. There is no dispute the other driver was negligent in causing the collision, however, the plaintiff was not wearing her seat-belt. The value of the settlement compensating the plaintiff for her damages can be reduced if the defendant can establish that any of her damages would have been avoided or lessened had she been wearing her seat-belt.
There are several forms of insurance coverage available in the event a person negligently injures another. Examples include automobile insurance, homeowners or business insurance, malpractice insurance, and general liability insurance. For several different reasons, it is unlikely that a negligent person will be held personally liable for an injured party's damages and therefore the amount a person can recover will likely depend upon the amount of insurance coverage available.
For example, automobile bodily injury insurance policies generally range from $25,000 to $250,000 in available coverage to compensate a wrongfully injured person. If a negligent driver has an insurance policy providing $25,000 in bodily injury coverage and negligently causes catastrophic injuries to another person, it is likely the injured person will only be able to recover $25,000 to compensate for their damages regardless of the extent of their damages. This situation can be avoided by purchasing Supplemental Uninsured or Underinsured insurance ("SUM" coverage) with your insurance provider. SUM coverage generally ranges from $25,000 to $250,000 and provides additional insurance if you are wrongfully injured and the negligent person either does not have any insurance or has inadequate coverage to compensate for the extent of your damages.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is what a jury likely will award given the facts and circumstances of the case. Civil lawsuits are not meant to punish defendants but rather to compensate a wrongfully injured person for their damages. Civil juries include six people who generally are tasked with determining whether a defendant negligently caused injuries and the amount of money required to adequately compensate the wrongfully injured person for their damages. No two jurors, and therefore no two juries, are alike. Experienced personal injury attorneys are knowledgeable as to what past juries have awarded in similar cases. This information is extremely important, but any attorney who guarantees you a certain result is not being truthful.
Choosing to bring a personal injury action and choosing the right personal injury attorney is no small task. Everyone should trust and feel comfortable with their decision. Take your time, get answers to all of your questions, and get more than one opinion.