Valuing Your Case
Figuring out how much your case is worth is a critical aspect of any accident case, both for you and your attorney. It drives many decisions, including when to settle v. go to trial and how much money your attorney should spend on preparing your case. In this section, we discuss all the different issues your attorney is taking into consideration when coming up with your case’s value.What Money (i.e. Damages) You Are Entitled to for Your Personal Injuries
There are three (3) different types of damages that are available to you in a personal injury case. They are Special Damages, General Damages, and Punitive Damages.
Special Damages: Special damages are those capable of being proven to an exact amount, usually with the help of bills and/or receipts. Special damages typically consist of medical bills, medications, and over-the-counter medical equipment like heating pads, bandages, etc. Special damages also include lost wages, lost vacation, lost sick leave, and travel expenses – traveling to/from your medical appointments. You are normally entitled to lost wages for the time missed from work or undergoing treatments even if your employer paid you sick leave at the time.
General Damages: General damages are incapable of exact proof and are normally the “pain and suffering” you endured from the accident. This includes emotional damages such as stress, anxiety, and depression. It also includes lost social and family events, such as having to missed a loved one’s birthday or a high school graduation for example. Finally, general damages also include any permanent physical disability or disfigurement. There is no formula for determining these types of damages. Many attorneys and insurance companies will use a multiple of your special damages to come up with this number. We try to stay away from this approach and instead focus on developing your “story” from the beginning. In any single one of our cases we spend at least a 1/3rd of the time building up your damages “story.”
Punitive Damages: The third category of damages are punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer and are not available in every type of case. Punitive damages are extra damages that a jury awards on top of the other two types of damages. There are tremendous strategic advantages to pursuing these types of damages in your case. For example, we are not normally allowed to show the jury a defendant’s other prior, bad acts. But if we are seeking punitive damages I can. Your attorney should look for every possible reason to obtain punitive damages because it puts huge pressure on the defendant in both discovery and at trial.Factors That Increase/Decrease Your Case’s Value
There are many, many factors that affect the value of your case and each case is different. You should always have a candid conversation with your attorney regarding what is affecting your case’s value both before you attempt pre-suit settlement negotiations and before going to trial. The following issues will affect the value of your case, but is not intended to be an all inclusive list:
- Your Age. The younger or older you are, the better your case is. Children aged 1-12 generally have outstanding settlement results. So do people in their late 60′s and older because of the sympathy the elderly create from the jury. That leaves people ages 13-59. These individuals do not receive the same sympathy of both the very young and the elderly.
- Type of Injury. Obviously the more severe your injuries, the more your case is going to be worth. Severe injuries also affect the general damages because the more severe injuries are usually assumed to have more severe general damages associated with them. Compare this with Minor Impact Soft Tissue cases.
- Objective Signs of Injury. When a doctor examines you, there are subjective and objective findings. Subjective findings are those things that can’t be measured or reproduced on paper. Usually, they are the things you tell your doctor you are experiencing. Objective findings, on the other hand, are measurable. This includes such things as MRI’s, measuring range of motion, and lab reports. The more objective findings your case has that supports your case, the more valuable your case becomes because your injuries are not just you saying what they are, but are supportable by tests and measurements.
- Your Attorney. This is probably the biggest factor in changing the value of your case THAT YOU CAN CONTROL. Think about it. All the other items in this list are set in stone. The facts are what they are. But your attorney is different. Insurance companies track which attorneys file lawsuits and which go for quick settlements. This changes the value of your case. Also, an aggressive plaintiff’s attorney will be constantly pushing the other side. This can add tremendous value to a case because you are putting pressure on the defense attorneys as well as their clients.
- What Kind of Witness You Are. This is always a big factor in the defense valuing your case. In fact, one of the primary reasons for taking your deposition is to see what kind of witness you are going to make in front of a jury. That is why your deposition preparation is so critical. It will affect the value of your case.
- What Kind of Witness Is the Other Driver. Juries tend to focus on emotional decisions and bad behavior. If the other driver or other defendants show bad behavior or bad decisions, the jury will respond. For example, was the other driver DUI, unremorseful, calling his girlfriend instead of calling for medical help? Did the trucking company rush investigators to the scene instead of calling for help, did they attempt to destroy evidence, did they apologize?
- Other Witnesses. The more unbiased witnesses you have in your favor, the stronger your case is. Your attorney wants, whenever possible, for your case to be more than your word against the other driver’s. Your attorney should also be looking for witnesses that can testify about your pain and suffering, but who are not family members who are biased in your favor.
- Venue. This simply means the court/county where your case would be filed. As a general rule, metro counties are more favorable to plaintiffs than rural counties, which are more conservative. But, and as an example of how subtle all this is, if you make a very genuine, sympathetic witness for yourself, rural, conservative juries have been known to relate and award more money.
- Percentage of Fault. In some cases, a jury will divide up fault among you and the defendants. They can also apportion fault among multiple defendants.
- Prior Injuries. Also known as pre-existing conditions, these are injuries you sustained to the same body parts you are saying were hurt in your current accident. Defense attorneys will comb through your medical records looking for any injury to argue you were not hurt in this accident, but another one. The rub is that you are entitled to damages even if you suffer from previous injuries to the same area. What this factor does do is cause a jury to discount your injuries by a certain amount.
- Property Damage. Your car should look like it supports what happens to you. In other words, almost no jury is going to award huge damages for a scratched bumper. But, if the car looks totaled, then there is visual evidence the jury can use to support its decision.
- Doctors Comments. Your medical records will have notes the doctor made commenting on your condition and the statements you made to him/her. Juries listen to doctors. If you have a doctor writing in your medical chart that you are faking your injuries, then you have a problem. You can bet the other side will bring that doctor to court.
- Time. The more patient and prepared you and your attorney are, the more you case will increase over time. Typically, your case will bump up in value at two different points. First, you will reach one value in pre-suit negotiations. Your case will then take a bump in value right before trial, when both sides try to settle the case right before trial. This is especially true if you and your attorney have performed extremely well during litigation.
I know. Some of you are now scratching your head and thinking there has to be some formula for putting a value on my case. Before I give you the rule-of-thumb, I must tell you there is no substitute for an experienced attorney evaluating your case and all its nuances.
That being said, your case can usually value your case at somewhere between 1.5 and 4 times your Special damages. For example, if your total medical bills and lost wages were $15,000. Your case may have a value of between $22,500 and $60,000. I know. That is a very broad range. The factors above are what an attorney will evaluate to narrow that range. If you make a horrible witness, the other driver is a saint, and the case is going to be filed in a very conservative county, your case will be on the low end. If you make an incredible witness, the other driver was DUI and unremorseful and the lawsuit can be brought in Fulton or Dekalb County, you are on the high side.How Insurance Companies Value Your Case
The insurance adjusters for most insurance companies handle 100′s of claims. If it were not for their computer diaries on each case, they couldn’t keep the facts of each case straight. Because the insurance companies handle so much volume, they created computer software to determine your case’s value. The most notorious of these is Colossus. This computer system was developed for State Farm and Allstate by a consulting company called McKinsey & Co. Instead of humans evaluating your case, now more and more cases are taking this away from adjusters and forcing them to input data into Colossus. The factors the software uses in determining your case’s value are closely guarded secrets. What is known is that your attorney must do his/her best to provide the adjuster all the facts, including diagnostic codes, to the adjuster to help increase the Colossus valuation.
Your best bet against Colossus is to retain a car accident lawyer who will demonstrate you are willing to take your case to a jury. A computer can never know your pain and suffering. A jury will. Also, adjusters will sometimes override Colossus when faced with a lawsuit so they can evaluate your case “one more time” before incurring the time and expense of a trial. Finally, there is evidence Colossus does factor into its valuation your attorneys’ history of taking cases to trial versus just settling cases.