One of my clients’ favorite questions is what is my case worth? We do lots of car wreck cases. During our 25 years of handling these kinds of cases, I have come up with some guidelines on how to evaluate a wreck case. First,let me say that you are welcome to a free consultation at our office to discuss case value. We are looking for cases where we can improve your case value.
It’s important to know that the evaluation is half art and half science. There is no formula that will tell you what the case is worth. It is never as easy as multiply your bills by three to arrive at a value. The real test of the value of the case is what your local jury would do with the case. However, I think people look for the same kinds of information when they’re evaluating what cases are worth. Even when I am discussing settlement with an insurance adjuster, the touchstone for value is what a jury would think. You need an experienced trial lawyer to help you with your evaluation.
The first factor is always fault – is there a question of liability? Clear liability cases are worth more than questionable liability cases, even if the injuries are the same. Liability questions detract from the value of a case.
The second factor is severity of impact. Injuries that result from a substantial impact are valued more highly than injuries resulting from a small fender bender. Documentation of the severity with photos and property damage estimates is always helpful.
My third factor is consistency of care. By that,I mean there should be no gaps in care. Jurors readily understand injuries where the care proceeds immediately after the accident scene. An EMS trip to the emergency room, followed by treatment with her primary care doctor and a specialist like an orthopedist or neurosurgeon is convincing evidence. Doctor recommended physical therapy is another important factor. I am not suggesting anyone get care they don’t need, because that will kill a case. But gaps in treatment are often fatal to injury cases, even when the gaps are for legitimate reasons. Reasonable people will delay trips to the doctor in hopes they will get well without the care, or delay care for financial or transportation reasons. Jurors are suspicious of people who don’t seek medical care yet claim they were hurt, and sometimes explaining the delay is necessary. While medical treatment from a serious injury is not always tidy and linear, it helps a claim if the care is consistently received in accordance with medical advice.
Another important factor in valuing a case is quality of care. Adjusters and jurors are more accepting of treatment provided by one trip to the ER, your primary care doctor, physical therapy and specialists if necessary, as opposed to multiple ER visits. Sometimes chiropractic care is questioned by jurors. Personally, I think chiropractic care is often the best treatment for soft tissue injury. However, some jurors are suspicious of chiropractic care. I personally think a combination of medical care and chiropractic care is perfectly acceptable for a soft tissue injury. For more severe injuries lasting more than three months after a wreck, an evaluation by a medical specialist seems appropriate to me if a client is reporting they are seriously injured.
The amount of your medical bills and lost wages is important to your case value. These “hard numbers” often provide a basement value to your claim. When claiming lost wages, your prior work history and ability to document the wages you were earning are very important. Wages verifiable by tax returns and check stubs are the most reliable evidence of wage loss, and is usually valued more highly.
Length of medical care is a significant factor in evaluating the value of a case. Care that only lasts two months is considered less valuable than care that lasts twelve months. Surgical cases and fractures are viewed as more valuable than soft tissue cases. Permanent scarring is also a factor in case value. Permanent injury, permanent pain and permanent disability are extremely important to case value, but they must be medically documented to get the value they deserve.
Lastly, and particularly important if suit is filed, is the character of the client. The ability of the client to present well, testify effectively and help his case is an extremely important factor in a personal injury case. It is not unusual to get a low ball offer from the insurance company in a personal injury case. Client character is extremely important in determining whether to file suit. If I have a client who can persuasively articulate the effect of the injury on their life, it is important. If the client is not credible, or cannot effectively describe their injury and it’s negative consequences on them, then the case value drops in a lawsuit. Often those cases are best settled before suit. Similarly, if the other party is not honest or has acted horribly (like driving drunk), then that can affect case value.
This is a summary of how I evaluate cases. There are other factors I have not discussed, including the expected costs of proving the case, novelty of the case, likelihood of appeal, your local jurisdiction, and other factors. The bigger the case, the more complicated the evaluation is. Only an experienced trial attorney can give you an accurate opinion.