Value of a Case
When you stop and consider just how many automobile accidents occur in the United States each year and take into account the sheer number of injury victims who seek redress through the courts, it only makes sense that plaintiffs would want to know what to expect. Often, one of the first questions a plaintiff asks his lawyer is “How much do you think my case is worth?” Some are disappointed by the answer since a lack of understanding about how the personal injury litigation process works can lead to wildly unreasonable expectations.
Why it Matters
It’s important to remember that 95% of all pending personal injury cases never get heard by a jury. That means a total of nineteen out of every twenty cases ends up being settled outside of court. And while it is common for statistics to be thrown around that suggest that the lion’s share of plaintiffs win when their cases are heard by a jury, victory in the courtroom may not always translate into adequate compensation.
The New York Times reported in 2008 on a study that showed that most plaintiffs who refused settlement received less money from juries than they were offered by the defendants. In fact, 61% of plaintiffs who proceeded to trial after being offered compensation during settlement negotiations ended up receiving substantially less as a result of their jury awards. The study suggested that, of those cases reviewed by analysts, plaintiff jury awarded on average $43,000 less than the settlement offers they had received.
Some might wonder why it’s even worthwhile to try to estimate the likely value of any given case. Well, that 2008 study clearly showed that it is almost impossible to properly proceed with your case unless your lawyer has some rough estimation as to its worth. To understand why this is true, it is important to understand what this estimated value is actually attempting to measure. It is not enough to just know that the average personal injury jury award in 2013 was $1,009,788. Your attorney has to work to narrow down the likely outcome of your individual case before proceeding.
When attorneys talk about the actual value of a case, they are referring to the likely amount that a jury would award in the event that the lawsuit made it to trial. Your lawyer needs to be able to predict the likeliest result from a jury decision, and refer to that estimation during any settlement negotiations. Thus, if a reasonable jury could be expected to award you $50,000 in damages, and the defendant is only offering $10,000 to settle out of court, your litigation team can clearly see that trial is the better option.
Putting a Number to It…
It should come as no surprise to learn that it can often be difficult to pinpoint exactly what any given case might be worth without delving into the particulars. Every case is different, and a whole host of factors can affect the valuation of any lawsuit. As a general rule, you can receive compensation for the following:
- Medical expenses
- Physical and mental pain and suffering
- Diminution of quality of life
- Loss of Earnings
- Property Loss
- Loss of Consortium
Insurers have their own methods for evaluating cases, though they too have to modify their assessment depending upon circumstances. Much of their assessment is related to what they call “special damages” – which is an aggregate number that represents the sum total of your financial losses related to the accident. Thus, medical, income loss, and other easily identifiable costs to you would all be covered under this label.
These special damages tend to get multiplied by two or three to arrive at a ballpark estimate of the probable value of the case. In cases with more severe injuries or medical treatments, higher multipliers can be used. The ultimate goal is to determine how a jury might view the case, in light of court case statistics that the insurance industry continually monitors.
Obviously, the entire process is one that requires assessment of a variety of individual factors. So, while the average cost for vehicular injuries might be an attractive benchmark to use in predicting a case’s value, it is ultimately useless when determining what a jury might do. After all, the average cost of a nonfatal disabling injury might have been $61,600 in 2007, but that by no means suggests that every litigant received anything close to that amount.
What Your Lawyer Needs to Evaluate the Case
It is clear that you need to know what your case is worth so that you can make educated decisions about how to proceed. Your lawyer needs certain facts to properly provide that estimation.
- Maintain all relevant documents so that you can demonstrate the true cost of the damages you have suffered as a result of the accident. That includes medical records, bills, documents demonstrating loss of property and income, documented sleep loss, anxiety, or other mental and emotional distress, and similar proof of injuries suffered.
- Since your own actions can also impact any award, it is important that your attorney be aware of any fault you bear for the accident. In addition, you should document efforts you have made to mitigate your damages, including things like following your doctor’s instructions. The last thing you want to do is provide the defense with a strategy they can use to counter your claim.
At the end of the day, it is important to understand that your attorney will probably not be able to provide you with anything close to an exact estimate of how a jury will compensate you – or whether you can even win your case. With the right facts, however, he or she can provide an approximate prediction on how the jury is likely to respond to your case, and thus develop a rough estimate of your claim’s real value.