How Much Is Your Personal Injury Case Worth?
There isn’t a simple formula for figuring out how much compensation you will receive in a personal injury case. So if you are considering hiring an attorney to represent you in your personal injury case, don’t expect to know the recovery amount within a free consultation. Run, don’t walk, from any attorney who says she can tell you what your case is worth during a free consultation.
At the appropriate point in your case, an attorney’s training and experience allow her to make a valuation of your personal injury case. Because there are many ways a case can play out however, forecasting the exact result is impossible. But in general, here is what will influence your recovery:
In Georgia, a personal injury trial takes place in the county where the at-fault party resides. An attorney will need to do a thorough evaluation to properly value a potential recovery amount. This evaluation includes factors like verdicts from similar cases in that county, the strength of your evidence (including fault, injuries and lost wages), and the other side’s reputation in his community, to name just a few.
Your lawyer and the other side (whether an insurance company or their lawyer) try to predict the amount a jury might award under the facts of your case. If you don’t settle your case, it will be worth what a jury determines it to be worth. Let’s say my training and experience lead me to conclude that a jury verdict in a case is between $4.00 and $7.00. The other side only offers $2.00 to settle the case. My client probably wants to take his chances with a jury. On the other hand, say the other side offers $6.00. My client probably wants to consider settling since he could do a little bit better but could also do a lot worse with a jury.
There is a good chance that as you go through the valuation process with your attorney, you may feel the projected verdict amount is less than what you expect. That’s because we tend to value our own hardships higher than others do. Since in trial the final recovery amount is decided by the jury, it is important to have your expectations in line with the jury’s likely result or else you might be disappointed. The ultimate decision about settling or trying a case is always the client’s, but if you’ve hired an attorney you have confidence in, it’s important to carefully consider what she tells is likely to happen.
What Counts and What Doesn’t
What a jury hears in court is only what the judge determines to be admissible evidence. Quite a bit of information you might think is admissible is not. For instance, the fact that the other party has liability insurance to pay you is not admissible. In fact, with very rare exception, we are not allowed to mention the word “insurance” at trial. That you do not have health insurance to pay for your medical treatment is generally not admissible. That you couldn’t get medical treatment because you couldn’t afford it is generally not admissible.
Even evidence that may be admissible must meet certain requirements. For instance, evidence about your lost wages must be proven with “reasonable certainty”. It’s not enough that you believed you were going to get a job had the collision not happened; you have to have someone testify they were going to hire you. Medical evidence about what your injuries are must be testified to by doctors and other health care professionals. Their opinions must be that the collision “more probably than not” caused what they are treating you for. It’s not enough that they say the collision might be the cause.
You decide whether you want to settle or go to trial, but in order to make the best choice, you really need to have an idea about what a jury verdict is likely to be. Attorneys are trained in what evidence is admissible; what it takes to prove your case to the satisfaction of the judge and jury; and how to predict what a jury might conclude in your case, if you do take it to trial.
Don’t Wrestle Pygmies
You don’t want to waste your time fighting over little things where the time and trouble involved in fighting means you will lose more than you gain. The same is true for lawyers- we do not want to spend more time on a case than it is worth. So it is important for both you and us that we know up front what your case is worth.
Without a good lawyer it is easy to make mistakes when it comes to knowing what your case is worth. One mistake is thinking that certain things have value when under the law they have little or no real value. For example, pain and suffering have great value in car wreck and other types of injury cases, but they have zero value in workers’ compensation cases. Disfigurement such as terrible scars on the face also has great value in most cases. In Georgia you are paid the costs of any medical treatment necessary to repair scars. However, you are paid nothing for the fact that the scars harm your looks.
Another mistake that is easy to make is not realizing what things do have value in a Georgia workers’ compensation case. There are three things that workers’ compensation pays in Georgia. First, it pays 100% of your medical expense of any kind for as long as you need that medical care. Second, it pays two thirds of your wage loss up to a maximum of $500.00 per week. Third, it pays an amount for any permanent impairment to your body caused by your injury. This impairment amount is determined by the per cent impairment your doctor decides multiplied times the number of weeks the law says you get for that body part and then multiplied times the amount you receive each week if you are totally out of work.
The above information is a very short and incomplete discussion of what workers compensation does pay. As with any legal issue, there are many more details to the laws that can make a huge difference in what your case is worth. For example, the wage loss benefits can reduce or completely stop after so many weeks unless you prove that your injury is catastrophic. This information is just to give you a brief outline so that you can better understand when you have something worth fighting for and when you might be better of not to wrestle with pygmies.
Your real life needs are the most important part of deciding whether to settle or try your personal injury case. An attorney should help you assess the costs (both economic and personal) involved in taking your case to trial. Armed with that information, you can make an informed decision.
The Costs of Trial
It is expensive to try most cases. I’m not talking about the attorney’s fees your lawyer will be paid if she gets you a favorable jury verdict, I am talking about the money that must be spent to present your case at trial. These costs include expert fees (doctors, therapists, engineers, etc.); court reporter costs for depositions; trial exhibits; and even attendance fees for lay witnesses. Some cases, like products liability and medical malpractice cases, may involve hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs. Almost every injury case requires between $5,000 and $10,000.00 to properly present to a jury. And a favorable verdict isn’t necessarily the end of the process. If one side or the other appeals, appellate costs may be similar to the costs to try the case. And an appeal may take a couple of years to be decided. The answer from the appellate court may be you have to try your case again. The bottom line is that going to court can be expensive, so it better be worth it.
Trying a case involves risk, money and time. Part of what our attorneys do when discussing how to proceed with your case is talk to you about your needs. Even a case that is worth trying from your lawyer’s point of view may not be to you. How’s that?
Maybe you’ve been out of work and have used up your savings and are about to lose your home. Maybe you don’t have medical insurance and need treatment now rather than a year from now. In those circumstances $20,000.00 today will help you more than $25,000.00 down the road.
You also have to ask yourself what is the emotional cost to you and your family taking a case to trial. While our attorneys thoroughly prepare clients for trial before we get into the courtroom, it is not an experience most people enjoy. It’s important you understand that so if you do go to court, you aren’t surprised and so you can figure the emotional cost into your decision about settlement versus trial.
Deciding whether to try or settle your case involves many considerations. We help you go through each one of those as you make your decision. If you would like our help with your case, contact us today for a free consultation because it always depends on your unique case. That’s not a cop-out but an honest answer. Your case is not worth whatever your neighbor’s or uncle’s or best friend’s first cousin’s case was worth. That’s because, even if every fact about the cases are exactly the same, the people involved are different, and that can make a significant difference in the value. Valuing a case correctly is not quick or easy. Look out for these things.
It’s A Simple Formula
There is an old formula people used that is something like this:
- Add up lost wages and medical expenses
- Multiple that total by 3
Many years ago insurance companies and lawyers used this formula as a yardstick, but these days, it isn’t the case at all.
Some law firms and others provide online settlement evaluation tools where you can allegedly plug in figures from your case to arrive at its value. Generally at the end of the form you don’t get the value you expected but rather are asked for your contact information and told a lawyer will call you to discuss the value of your case. Such sites are not only misleading, but if they do give you a value, it’s likely worthless.
Colossus is a proprietary piece of software some insurance companies use to help value personal injury cases. Adjusters plug information into the database, and the Colossus program then provides the insurance company with a range of values. There are in my opinion three major problems with using Colossus:
- It factors in some things that juries don’t consider important.
- It doesn’t consider some things juries do consider important.
- The value range it provides is only as good as the information the adjuster inputs.
Talking To An Attorney
There is no shortcut that can provide you with a valuation like an attorney who knows and understands you and your case. Involve an attorney early in your case. Even if you aren’t sure you want to hire an attorney, at least take advantage of the free consultation offered by our firm. Your case deserves that.