Factor #1 - Who was at fault?
There is no magic formula for determining the value of a potential claim. However, determining fault, and liability, is important in all accidents, whether they involve a car, truck, bicycle, motorcycle, slip-and-fall, or defective product. In most - but not all - automobile accidents, it is fairly clear who was at fault. Determining fault essentially determines who pays for damages caused in a car accident claim. Was the other party completely at fault, mostly at fault, or only partially at fault? If liability is not clear, a percentage of liability may be assigned to different parties. Assigning degrees of fault is handled by the insurance company claims adjustor. An experienced personal injury attorney can advocate for the lowest degree of fault for you.
Factor #2 - What was the extent of your injuries?
If you sustained serious injuries, it is in your best interests to consult with an attorney. If your injuries are very minor, it may not be necessary to have an attorney handle your case. In any case, there is no harm in seeking out a free consultation. Keep records of all doctor visits, imaging tests (like MRIs, CT Scans, X-rays), specialist consultations, surgeries, ambulance costs, prescriptions and other medical treatment issues and costs. If the other party is liable for your injuries, you will be entitled to compensation for your out-of-pocket medical costs and your future medical expenses. If your injuries are severe and require life-long medical care, your attorney may consult with a life planner to ensure your compensation will cover the care you need for the rest of your live. Whether or not you had pre-existing injuries is also a factor that may come into play.
Factor #3 - How old are you?
Your age will come into consideration to some extent in determining the value of your claim. Very young victims and very elderly victims may receive a higher jury verdict or settlement due to sympathetic feelings towards innocent children and elderly people. Along with your age, your anticipated life expectancy, and the number of years that you would otherwise be expected to continue working are also factors.
Factor #4 - How do your injuries affect you?
The way your injuries affect you also plays a role in determining the value of your claim. Can you perform everyday activities like walking, talking, eating, and driving a car? Did you have to have surgery? What is your recovery time? Will you be able to return to work? You may want to keep a journal of all the ways your injuries have affected your day-to-day activities and share these with your attorney. Be sure to also disclose all pre-existing injuries or conditions to your lawyer.
Factor #5 - What is your income status?
This factor could be combined with factor #4, but it can also be distinguished. How much money do you make annually, and how much time will you need to spend away from work, or can you return to work at all? Does your injury require you to change your job? If you have a high-income position your calculated lost wages will be higher than if you have a lower income position. Future anticipated income is usually demonstrated using past pay stubs or tax returns.
Factor #6 - Did the at-fault party have insurance?
Although it may not seem fair, the financial status of the at-fault party plays a significant role in your ability to recover damages for your injuries or a loved one's wrongful death. Did the at fault party have insurance? What were their insurance policy limits? If the party responsible for your accident had a policy limit of $30,0000, that is the maximum you may recover from the insurance carrier. You would have to recover additional compensation from the responsible party personally. If the party did not have insurance, did you have underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage? Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage also covers you if you are injured in a hit-and-run accident. Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM insurance) is not required in California, but is very highly recommended.
Factor #7 - Who is your personal injury attorney?
Finally, who is your lawyer? Although most injury attorneys typically charge the same fee, not all personal injury attorneys can get the same results. The personal injury lawyer you choose to handle your claim can make a big difference how much money you ultimately recover. If an attorney cannot establish liability, you may not be able to recover any damages as well. Choose an attorney with a proven record of success and experience handling cases similar to your situation. Although every case is different, many cases have commonalities that attorneys will be able to draw on to help build up your case. When discussing your situation with an attorney, ask what other types of verdicts or settlements they've obtained for similar cases. Many attorneys post their case results and testimonials on their website and in profiles on websites like Avvo.com.