One of the most common questions I receive in a personal injury intake is, "How much is my case worth?" That is not an easy question to answer and people should be leery of lawyers that automatically spit out a number without reviewing medical records, bills, and other information. That is because there are various variables that we examine to assign a value to a personal injury car crash case. More importantly that is the value we assign the case. The insurance company also assigns a value to the case. That number is usually lower than the injured person's lawyer's number. At the end of the day only a Jury truly knows how much a particular case is worth, but most cases settle prior to trial.
With that said, I have listed a few of variables that lawyers use to put a value on the case below. The list is not exhaustive, and it is in no particular order. However, it should provide you with a general understanding of how a personal injury lawyer and an insurance company assign a value to a car crash personal injury case.
1) The Type of Car Crash injuries: Broken bones are typically worth more than soft tissue (whiplash) injuries. However that is not always the case. For example, a herniated disc injury will likely be worth more than a fractured pinkie toe. Injuries that cause scars or disfigurement are typically worth more than an internal injury.
2)The permanency of the injury: The longer the person suffers crash related physical impairments that effect their life, the more their case is worth. Insurance companies know this and that is why they will often offer a paltry amount of money very early to settle the case. If you settle the case before you know if the injury is permanent you will likely be leaving money on the table. People wonder how do you know if your injury is permanent? Medical providers will typically tell a person and provide that evidence in a medical chart note.
3) The Medical Treatment Sought: Personal injury cases rely heavily on medical evidence. Medical providers provide the necessary diagnosis, treatment, and documentation to prove to a jury (and the bad driver's insurance adjuster) that you are injured and the types of injury you sustained. Clients who seek medical treatment and follow their treatment providers' directives will often increase the value of the case. However, it should be noted just because you see a doctor, doesn't mean you will increase the value of the case. A chart note can also lower the value of the case if you claim an injury and the medical evidence does not support your injury claim. Moreover, a hundred trips to an acupuncturist may not increase the value of your case if you never saw a medical doctor.
4) Medical bills incurred: The urban legend that a case is worth three times the medical bills is just wrong. Some cases end up that way, but many don't. For example a person that quickly heals 100% after having a costly surgery may not recover as much as a person that doesn't have surgery for the same injury but suffers from well documented permanent injuries. Additionally, some serious injuries don't have a lot of medical bills. An amputated thumb may not have many medical bills. However, that is a potentially debilitating injury that will likely effect virtually everything the person does for the rest of their life. The medical bills in that case are not an important variable, but they are still a variable.
5) Crash Damage: Typically the more crash damage there is, the more a person's case is worth. Minor impact cases with little visible vehicle damage can result in severe soft tissue (whiplash) type injuries, but typically jurors need to be convinced of that. On the other hand, jurors will usually infer from the beginning that a person had to have been injured in a high speed crash that totals the vehicles involved.
6) The Client: An honest client's case is worth more than a person who exaggerates their pain and injuries. A tough client's case is usually worth more than a whiner's case. An organized client that attends medical appointments and follows their medical providers's directives' case is usually worth more than the know it all client that tells everyone they are injured but doesn't seek treatment or follow up with medical providers. Clients and the way they present themselves can dramatically increase or decrease the value of their case.
7) The Bad Driving Defendant: In almost all of my personal injury cases the defendant is insured. The defendant's insurance company is the entity that will decide if they will make a fair offer or force us to seek an award from a Jury. However, in Oregon jurors are not informed that it is the billion dollar insurance company that is refusing to make a fair settlement offer. The Juror sees the little old lady that ran the red light that is the named defendant and may feel sympathy for her. They may not want to award you any money to compensate you for your injury, because that may put the elderly lady on the street. On the other hand a corporate defendant that has a bad safety record will likely increase the value of the injured person's case because jurors have little sympathy for a large corporation and they know the corporation has money to pay the judgment.
8) Comparative Fault and Other Defenses: The value of the case can be reduced if the defendant has a good defense. If the defense can show you caused the crash then your case value may go down or your case may not have any value at all. If the defense can interject uncertainty and other legal issues to the case then that will bring down the value of your case.
9) Pre-Existing Conditions: Pre-existing conditions are the most litigated issues in personal injury cases. As we age our bodies deteriorate. Insurance company defense lawyers capitalize on this medical fact and attempt to assert that the crash didn't injure you, and the pain is caused by a pre-existing medical condition. If a person has sought treatment prior to the crash for a medical condition that they are claiming was caused by the crash that can reduce the value of the case.
10) Lawyers Involved: Many people settle their cases with the insurance company without a lawyer. This is largely because they don't want to get a lawyer involved or they don't want to have a lawyer take a percentage of any money they are awarded. However, this is typically a big mistake. Most of the time people that resolve their own cases are leaving money on the table. Lawyers know how to get insurance companies to increase the value of the case and if not, then we take the case to trial or arbitration. Insurance companies know that, so they usually will increase the value of the case if a lawyer is involved. If you think your case is too small for a lawyer to handle, you should read this blog article.
The list above is not exhaustive, and if you have any questions call me for your free personal injury case evaluation. Call Ross Law at 503.224.1658 and ask for Jeremiah Ross. Please remember that there are numerous variables that go into the case and do not rely solely on the list above.