What is the Value of My Personal Injury Case?
It's a legitimate question that every victim asks. If the negligence of another has injured you, our justice system recognizes that, although money is a poor substitute for your health and peace of mind, it is how the law measures the magnitude of your loss. The idea that money is substituted for an intangible loss is not only accepted and understood; it's really the core of our civil justice system. Putting an appropriate value on a case is one of the most important things a personal injury attorney does. The most important thing is recovering that money for you.
The "value" of your claim, i.e., the amount of money you're entitled to recover, is based on several factors, such as:
Whether You are Entitled to Recover; Do You Have a Case, and How Strong is it?
Of course, the starting point is always whether or not the law recognizes the loss claimed and provides a remedy for it. In your initial meeting, an effective lawyer should provide you with an opinion as to whether you have a case, based on the facts you present to the lawyer, and the application of your chosen lawyer's skill, background, and knowledge of the law to those facts. If you have a valid claim, you have what the law calls a "cause of action." But that should never be the end of the process. We must also explore defenses and consider complicated evidentiary concerns. This second tier of analysis concerns the relative merits of the claim. The strength of your case, i.e., your likelihood of prevailing at trial, has a role in assessing the claim's value, especially in the arena of settlement negotiations and mediations. I've seen that on occasion, the parties may actually agree on the value of the claim if successful. For example, both plaintiff and defense might think that an automobile claim is successful at trial, it is worth $50,000. If the defense thinks they have a good defense on liability and that they have a 50/50 chance of prevailing on that issue at trial, they will only value the claim at most at $25,000. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff's lawyer has made a strong case for clear liability, then that will likely push the value closer to $50,000.
From Whom You are Entitled to Recover
Your experienced personal injury attorney should fully assess the facts and determine the appropriate liable parties. If there is more than one, the pool of potential recovery becomes larger. Having more defendants is typically better than fewer. Moreover, an accurate appreciation of the financial circumstances of the at-fault party is vital. Most long time lawyers I know have had the brutal experience of recovering a judgment for a large amount of money, only to find they cannot collect on the judgment for their client because the defendant is bankrupt, out of business, or does not possess sufficient assets to satisfy a judgment. The availability of valid insurance can lessen the impact of some of these considerations. Once the appropriate defendants are identified, your lawyer should collect information about available insurance coverage, discussed in more detail below.
The Amount of Insurance Coverage
While the existence of liability insurance is an essential factor, the amount of coverage available is frequently just as important in assessing fair value for a claim. Maryland requires that each policy sold in this state has $30,000 of liability coverage. Anyone can purchase more, but many people don't. $30,000 may seem like a lot of money. I can assure you that, for anyone seriously harmed in an automobile accident where surgery or extensive therapy was required and wages were lost, that $30,000 gets eaten up pretty quickly. It comes as no surprise to most, but commercial insurance policies typically have much higher limits than those of personal or family liability policies, sometimes in excess of $1,000,000. An insurance company offering $25,000 of a $30,000 policy is giving up 80% of its maximum exposure, whereas an insurance company offering $25,000 of a $1,000,000 policy is getting out for only a small fraction of their possible exposure. These considerations play a role in evaluating the worth of the case/. Where there is no or not enough coverage, the role of Underinsured or Underinsured Motorist coverage enters the discussion. I've devoted a number of articles on this page to the intricacies of Underinsured or Underinsured motorist claims. It can get complex, and most people pursuing such claims choose to employ experienced counsel to assist them. If, for example, you are injured in an automobile accident with someone who has no insurance, your "uninsured" coverage would come into play. If, however, you are injured in a motor vehicle accident where the at-fault driver has some, but not enough, coverage, your "underinsured" coverage becomes operative. A lawyer's thorough understanding of the role of uninsured coverage is vital in determining fair value for a claim.
What are You Entitled to Recover?
Our system of civil justice recognizes the role of money in compensating injury victims for their loss. It is not a perfect system, to be sure. No one would trade their good health for a check. But we've decided that money is the next best thing. When someone is injured, they are entitled to fair compensation under the law. We label and quantify what an injured person collects as "damages." A personal injury attorney's job is to collect full and fair value, i.e., money damages, for their clients' injuries. The law recognizes two types of damage in a tort case: economic and non-economic. For economic damages, think of something that you can quantify with a calculator.
An example would be medical bills. Simply add the amount of medical bills, and you have your total damages for past medical. The same analysis applies to lost wage claims. When dealing with lost future wages, the loss of earning capacity, or future medical expenses, the intricacies and burden of proving these types of claims is such that most injury victims choose to employ an experienced personal injury attorney to assist them. Non-economic damages are at the other end of the spectrum and encompass notions like pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, and loss of enjoyment of life. These are abstract concepts, not subject to easy quantification and calculation. In this arena, a skilled and seasoned lawyer can provide you with guidance and assistance in demonstrating just how the accident and your injuries have impacted and changed your life.
Your Past and Future Medical Expenses
A victim of injury is entitled to collect the medical expenses they have incurred in the past and those that with reasonable probability might be expected in the future. Past medical expenses are, in some respects, a mathematical exercise. However, the insurance company often disputes the amount of medical bills, contending that the charges are too high or that the services are not related to the subject accident. Your lawyer can successfully challenge these positions so that you receive full compensation for your loss. Maryland does not allow a set-off if some of your medical expenses are paid by a third party like a health insurance company. You are allowed to submit, and recover, the full amount of your bills as part of your claim. If health insurance has paid, they may assert a lien, or a subrogation claim, on your recovery. Here again, a skilled personal injury attorney can negotiate these liens on your behalf to maximize your recovery. Future medical expenses are a more intricate claim and generally can only be proven by expert testimony elicited by your attorney from a doctor or other health care professional.
Your Past and Future Lost Wages
As with past medical expenses, the wages you've lost to date are typically arrived at by mathematics. Accident victims that contend that have will have wage loss projected into the future, or have sustained a loss of earning potential, will almost always require an experienced attorney to pursue this claim for them. Such proof usually requires an economist, a disability expert, or some other professional able to project facts and figures into the future. The easier case is one in which the future lost wages are fixed. i.e., someone will miss three months of work recuperating from surgery, or, more seriously, where the person will never work again due to injury. The more difficult case is one in which the injured person can return to work in some manner but is not reasonably expected to earn the same amount as before the injury. This is sometimes referred to as loss of earning capacity. The role of the expert witness is harder here. The projection into the future of likely earnings, what the injured person would have earned but for the accident, the role of inflation, economic downturns, and the outlook for a specific industry must all be considered. As with any measure of damage, where the numbers are 'speculative,' they are subject to attack and reversal on appeal.
The Costs of Litigating the Case
Litigation is expensive. Although we always advance any litigation costs, ultimately, litigation costs are the clients' responsibility. Of course, there is no responsibility for costs, or fees, for that matter, unless we are successful. Costs include filing fees, service of process fees, court reporters, mediations, and expert witness fees. While incurring these costs is necessary in getting a case to trial, your lawyer should engage in a detailed cost/benefit analysis with you before substantial litigation costs are incurred.
Venue means the location in which your trial will take place. There are rules that govern this. Usually, the trial will occur where the defendant lives or works or where the accident occurred. Where your trial will take place has a significant role in determining the value of your case. Historically, urban areas such as Baltimore City are viewed as being friendly to Plaintiffs, and rural, or suburban areas near cities, such as Harford County, are viewed as being more favorable for the Defense. It can become more nuanced. Maryland offers two court systems for claims: District Court, for less serious cases, and Circuit Court, where the dollar amounts are higher. While juries in Baltimore City have historically been viewed as being more likely to award large sums to Plaintiffs, Baltimore City District Court Plaintiffs have historically not fared as well. An experienced lawyer who has tried cases can give you input on how cases are likely to be viewed in your particular jurisdiction.
Your Pain, Suffering, Anguish, and Loss of Enjoyment of Life
Non-economic damages are sometimes referred to as "pain and suffering." That's as good a description as any. The law says that non-economic damages are: pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of consortium, and other 'non-pecuniary' injury. These damages are distinguished from economic damages- hard numbers that are readily identifiable and calculable. In our view, the successful personal injury Plaintiff is able to show how an injury has affected their day-to-day activities, in every facet. This is not always easy to do. The development of a comprehensive and persuasive methodology to prove your non-economic loss is another vital component of your claim and one in which your attorney can provide significant help. I advise my personal injury client to keep a "pain diary" from the date of the accident, in which they detail how they felt on a specific day, problems and difficulties encountered, and activities affected by their injury.
Once All the Facts are Determined, an Experienced Lawyer Should Give You a Value Range
It's a complicated task. If you have been injured and want to discuss the value of your case, complete the form on the site to schedule your free legal analysis and planning session.