One of the most common questions personal injury attorneys get asked accident victims what their case is worth, or how much they can expect to recover in a personal injury lawsuit. Victims often have misperceptions of value based on what a relative or friend recovered, or even based on verdicts or settlements that they read about in the media.
Law is not a Science
Victims are often dismayed to hear attorneys give them the answer, “it depends,” or to hear attorneys simply say they do not know what a case is worth. But there are a number of factors that go into valuing a personal injury case. Understanding what they are may make it easier for you to understand why an attorney is usually unable to give you definite about the value of your case or your injury early on.
Unlike medicine, law is not a science, where we know we can conduct the same test X number of times and come out with the same result. It is not like economics, where you do math or input variables into a formula and out pops an exact result. Rather, it is a complex web of “what ifs,” many of which may not be known until months or even years after your accident.
We do not value injuries. We value cases. The law does not allow you to recover just for being injured, you must prove that someone was responsible for your injury. Doing so is not always easy; as we have said before, “easy” cases are usually not as easy as they seem.
That is why the first step is asking what the chances are that a jury will believe someone else is responsible for your accident. Surely, there are cases such as rear-end car accidents where it is likely that a jury will find liability. Other cases that may involve “he said/she said,” or conflicting testimony, or conflicting scientific evidence, may be more difficult to prove.
Because evidence comes from gathering information, and much of that information is not known until deep into a lawsuit, an attorney may not readily know whether a jury will find someone else 100% or 0% responsible for your accident. In fact, as documents are discovered and depositions taken through the course of a trial, evidence often reveals a “bad” case is a good one (and vice versa), months or years after the accident itself.
What is an Injury Worth?
It is distasteful to say that an injury has a “value” because almost every victim would rather not be injured than have money, and the value of a body function or a family member’s health, is immeasurable.
A jury will have to value your injury, however, and there is no guideline or rulebook that they follow. In other words, there is no manual that says that this injury is worth that amount. Two juries may find that the same injury has widely different values.
In some cases, we do have a history of cases to guide us as to what most juries will value a given injury. That can often be less than what the victim anticipates, but it is the basis that your attorney will use to tell you what you can expect. If your attorney tells you that your injury has a value, it is not the value that he or she thinks it is worth, but rather is based on knowing the history of what jurors have thought that injury has been worth in previous cases. It is like common economics—an item may be valuable to you, but on the market, it is worth what others pay for it.
Remember, this is all after you have reached full recovery. Early in your case, you may not even know how injured you are. A victim who makes a near full recovery with no lifetime limitations will have an injury valued differently than someone who has the same injury, but ends up permanently disabled. People recover differently from the same injuries based on many factors. You may not know how much will recover until months or years of medical treatment, making it even harder to value your injury from early on.
Putting it All Together
Now it is time to put liability (which we do not know about for certain early in the case) with your injury value (which is an estimation based on prior juries), and you can see why the value of your case is so difficult to estimate in the early stages.
The value of the injury must be reduced by liability problems. For example, if the value of an injury is estimated at $100,000, but there is a chance a jury will find you 50% responsible for your own injury, the case is worth $50,000. An injury worth $1 million may be worth a fraction of that when it may be a very difficult case to prove, and thus a high chance of a defense verdict.
The other side’s settlement offers will take this into account. Settlement offers will never be the other side’s worst day in court. If your injury has a maximum value of $1 million, the defendant often will not offer you that before trial. It will offer some lowered, compromised amount, and you, in consultation with your attorney, must decide if it is worth the risk of trial to recover what you think is the full value of your case.
There are many more factors that go into case evaluation, but even just these basics should tell you why your attorney will answer “it depends” when you ask what will happen at trial. Understanding these variables will help you make educated decisions about what happens in your injury case.
Your injury trial requires the guidance of an attorney who can explain to you all the possible outcomes. Make sure your attorney can give you the information you need to make the right decisions during your case. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your injury case.