Published in Personal Injury on February 16, 2018
One of the most common questions I hear from my personal injury clients is “How much is my case worth?” Unfortunately, a lawsuit or insurance claim is not as easy to put a price tag on as some of the treasures you might see on The Antique Roadshow!
There are several factors that impact the value of a personal injury claim. Here are just a few:
Extent of your injuries
When an insurance company or jury evaluates a case to decide how much an injured party should receive, one of the most important considerations is the nature and extent of the person’s injuries. Simply put, the more severe the injury, the more the case is worth. In any event that causes injury, whether it be a car accident, a slip and fall incident, or a medical malpractice case, a person may suffer a broad variety of injuries. There is no commonly accepted ranking of the severity of injuries, but generally speaking, those that cause the person to feel the effects of the injury for longer periods of time are given more weight than those that last a short period of time. Those that can be seen with the naked eye or with imaging studies like x-rays or MRIs (like broken bones) carry more weight than soft-tissue injuries that cannot be visualized.
Cost of your medical treatment and other out of pocket expenses
The cost of an injured party’s medical treatment is a key driver in case value. If the injuries required extensive medical treatment, it is likely that a health insurance company paid a large sum of money to the medical providers. The plaintiff or claimant is entitled to recover the amounts actually paid (and in some cases the amount billed) for that medical treatment. Thus, the higher the cost of medical care, the higher the case value. Also, there can be a correlation between the cost of medical treatment and the seriousness of the injuries—serious injuries require more medical treatment (and more expensive medical treatment) than minor injuries.
Other out of pocket losses, like lost wages, are also recoverable in most personal injury cases. The longer a plaintiff misses work and misses out on compensation, the higher the case value. This is also true for any other costs incurred as a direct result of the other party’s negligence.
The ability to collect from the defendant
A third key component of case value is the ability to collect money from the defendant. This can include available insurance. In Missouri, the minimum legal amount of liability insurance drivers must carry is $25,000.00. So, if a driver gets hit by a negligent party carrying only the legal minimum and there are no other sources from which to collect compensation, the most that driver’s case is worth is $25,000.00—regardless of how serious his or her injuries. Insurance is not the only consideration. The assets owned by the negligent party, the negligent party’s occupation and income, and the prospect for the negligent party to acquire additional assets or increase income all factor into collectability and ultimately case value.
Location, location, location
Finally, location is critical in determining a case’s true value. When attorneys and insurance companies evaluate cases for purposes of settlement, they attempt to predict how a jury is likely to react to the case. If a jury is likely to award a larger amount of money to the plaintiff, the insurance company pays more to settle the case. If, however, the jury is likely to award a small sum of money, the insurance company is less willing to pay. Certain cities, counties, and other jurisdictions are traditionally more friendly to injured plaintiffs and tend to award larger verdicts. Attorneys and insurance companies are familiar with these venues. As you discuss your case value with your legal counsel, you should ask about the venue in which your case will occur and how that affects your case’s value.
There are additional factors that determine how much your case is worth, but these four factors are key. Sadly there is no crystal ball in which attorneys can look to predict with 100% certainty what your case is worth. Experienced lawyers can give you a range of values after becoming familiar with the facts and defenses in your case. This is one of the benefits of hiring an experienced, competent attorney. He or she will help you evaluate the factors listed above as you make decisions about whether you should settle or try your case.