How to Value Your Own Injury Claim
At the end of your case, all you will have is money. Compensation, hopefully, for the injuries caused by someone else who was careless. What everyone wants to know, is what the case is worth. How much should it settle for? What will a jury do with your set of facts?
Of course, if the answer was simple, there would be a chart with injuries on the left, amounts on the right. It isn’t simple. An ironworker with a broken leg needs more compensation than a disc jockey, who can continue to work with a broken leg. A fractured leg can be any one of seven different classes of fracture, and it may heal well or become a permanent problem. Often there is a combination of injuries. Do we just add all of them up?
For years the insurance companies have been tweaking software aimed at helping them with case evaluation, but even they have not really succeeded. Part of the failure is because they don’t really want the true answers, they want to minimize payouts, but most of the problem is that software can’t get all of the elements together in a given case.
OK. Enough excuses. Here is the answer: Cases are valued at the amount that the parties agree best represents what a jury will do when presented with the particular set of facts.
Juries are skeptical. They have been bombarded with the image of the phony accident claimant. They think their job is to question everything. On the other hand, juries are human. They like some people better than others. They take sides.
There are services that publish short summaries of jury verdicts. The facts come from short conversations with one or both attorneys involved, so there are built in biases. Nonetheless, if you look at enough jury verdicts, it will help you predict what a jury will do. Is yours the kind of case juries like?
Insurance companies, of course, have huge databases of settlements. Their software is capable of storing diagnoses, medications, disability periods, costs of future medical procedures, and many other details.
Juries tend to look for bigger impacts. They have a harder time believing there is an injury when there is not much damage to the cars. They are skeptical when an injured person delays getting treatment for several days, or a week, even though it is well established that muscular damage, and strains, typically take two days to appear. They are more impressed by visible injuries, such as broken bones, than by invisible injuries, such as soft tissue damage. They like diagnostics they think are definitive, like MRI reports, EEG studies, and other tests whose results can be explained.
Juries are more persuaded by permanent or long term injuries than by injuries which have healed. They place a lot of weight on the effect of the injuries on your daily activities. If you can’t get through your normal day, juries relate to that, especially when the limitations are severe and not likely to ever improve. Juries have a lot less patience when they think you are a complainer, particularly with a lesser injury.
They consider you as a person. A scar on a pretty young woman has far more value than the same scar on a rough looking older man.
Your case value should take into account:
- Damage to your vehicle, if one is involved.
- Medical bills. In some places, like California, you receive only the actual amounts paid by your insurance carrier, not the amount billed.
- Future Medical Bills. What will your care cost you in the future?
- Wage Loss. This should include loss of benefits, as well, such as vacation, pension, health care through your employer, and any other benefits.
- Future Wage Loss. How much will this cost you in the future? Will it affect your ability to advance in your job or career?
- Loss of future opportunities. These can be very difficult to prove, and it can be hard to demonstrate convincingly, but injuries can change your future prospects.
- Damage to ability to function. How does the injury affect your ability to function on a daily basis in your home, around your home, socially, and at work? How does it affect your relationships? Are their things that you cannot do? Do you need assistance or modification to the way you do things? Do you do things anyway, even though it is painful? Do you do things, but not as well? This category of damages takes some thought.
- Psychological damages. Do you dream about the accident? Do you have emotional damage or even psychiatric illness? Do you re-live the accident during the day? Do you have a head injury? Head injuries require a lot of effort to quantify accurately, including MRI or other diagnostics, neuropsychological testing, and non-expert witnesses who have observed the changes.
- Humiliation and embarrassment. A scar, a limp, a head injury can all cause embarrassment in the course of your day. These need to be addressed as damages.
- Loss of enjoyment of life. An injury changes things. Sometimes important parts of your life are affected.
- Damage to relationships. A head injury that makes you burst out in anger without much cause can end a marriage, much less affect your social relationships.
The best way to evaluate a case is to list all of the “economic” damages, such as wage loss, damage to your vehicle, and medical expenses, past and future. Then go through the other “non-economic” categories that list all of the ways your injury affects you. Try to imagine the dollar amount an insurance adjuster, a juror, or a skeptical person who dislikes injury claimants will feel is “reasonable” compensation. Compare jury verdicts in cases that look similar.
After you arrive at a number, adjust it for the intangible factors in your case. Is the defendant likable or not? Is this the kind of case that makes people angry, or was it a simple accident? Are you suing an individual where the jury may be reluctant to come up with a large award (in most states jurors are not allowed to know that there is insurance)? Are you suing a government entity, where jurors will feel the award comes out of their own pockets?
You can run part or all of your damages past other people. What do they think? Keep in mind that jurors do not think in terms of hundreds of thousands of dollars. They value cases with the same mindset they use when shopping. A jury may think they made a big award, when you may think it is far less than you deserve.
Believe it or not, this is how cases are valued. Juries are very hard to predict, yet experienced attorneys and claims people are often close in the values they place on cases. More than 90% of cases settle, because the two sides can come to an agreement.
Last, as you can guess, many injuries need an expert analysis and the work of an experienced attorney before they can be presented in full. No insurance company pays on a claim unless they feel you can prove what you are claiming. Sometimes this takes a lot more than the medical records and a letter from your employer.
Hope this helps.