Written by attorney Joseph R. Maridon

How much is my case worth?

People are uncomfortable talking about money. Judges, juries, lawyers, and clients are all uncomfortable talking about money. Society tells us that such talk is impolite. Maybe society is right. But the very purpose of our legal system in personal injury cases is to fairly compensate the injury victim for his/her injuries. Accordingly, the goal of a personal injury lawyer is for the client to be monetarily compensated for his/her injuries. Because compensation is our goal, discussion of the value of your personal injury case is necessary. Accordingly, accident and injury lawyers need to move past this social custom and discuss the issues related to the value of your personal injury case. Accident victims should have honest and detailed discussions with a personal lawyer about the settlement value and trial value of their personal injury accident case.

Values of Serious Personal Injury Cases

Predicting the trial value or even settlement value of a serious personal injury case with precision is difficult. There are many factors that can effect the value of a case. Assuming the insurance company believes, based on past experience, that your personal injury lawyer is ready, willing and able to go to trial, the settlement value of a serious injury case is a prediction of what six jurors will believe your claim is worth because serious injury cases in Nevada invariably are decided by juries. The jury decides how much money to award you for your injuries. Accordingly, different juries will arrive at different verdicts under the same set of circumstances. Jurors bring with them, just as all of us do, their own personal biases that can either help or hurt you. Accordingly, this unpredictability leads to a wide range of results. So for settlement purposes, the accident lawyers and insurance companies take an average of what they believe a jury would award. If they generally agree on what that average is, the case will typically settle if the client agrees.

Studies Looking at Value of Personal Injury Cases Nationally

There is data available to give injury victims some general notion of the personal injury awards accident victims are receiving in personal injury cases. In 2005, a company that analyzes jury verdicts in personal injury cases did a study that found that the nationwide median jury award in a personal injury case was $38,461 and the nationwide plaintiff recovery probability was 55 percent.

The Factors That Matter in Personal Injury Cases

The data set out above is clearly not predictive of the results in any individual personal injury case. You need to discuss with your lawyer the specific facts of your personal injury case, the possible defense that may be asserted by the defendant's lawyer that may affect the jurors' perceptions, and come to a conclusion about the fair value of your case. This discussion will include analysis of the severity of the injuries you suffered as described both by you and in your medical records, the amount of available insurance, how clear the causal connection is between your injuries and the accident, how strong your liability case is, the quality of all of the witnesses, and the expected jury perceptions of you and the defendant. This discussion with your lawyer will also include analysis of the venue where the case is being tried.

Value of Smaller Personal Injury Cases

It is not difficult to predict the settlement value of a smaller personal injury case where the injuries are not substantial. Cases where the value of the case is less than $25,000 cannot be predicted with exact certainty but an experienced personal injury lawyer can predict the value to a reasonable degree of confidence within a relatively narrow range. Accordingly, if you know the amount of lost wages, the injuries, and the way the injured victim will appear at trial, a seasoned personal injury lawyer familiar with the jury pool in the particular county where the case is being tried can generally make a close prediction as to the outcome of the case.

How the Insurance Companies Determine Value

Typically, most of the insurance companies we deal with in Nevada injury cases use computer software to determine the value of car, truck, and motorcycle accident cases. Most use a computer system called Colossus, which is reportedly used by more than 50 percent of the nation's claims insurance adjusters. Many other insurance companies use a similar program. The insurance adjuster inputs the data received from your lawyer, your medical records and the amount of your lost wages. Colossus then considers the severity of the accident and where the accident occurred, or where suit could be brought. Colossus will give a higher value for a case in a venue considered favorable for accident victims, such as Clark County, than it would for the same case in, for example, Nye County. Colossus and its progeny also look in determining what your case is worth and whether your lawyer has a history of successfully taking trials to verdict or whether the accident lawyer simply settles all of his/her personal injury cases. Both the computer and the insurance adjuster know which lawyers just settle their cases without even considering a trial if the offer is unreasonable. This is one of many reasons why the quality of your attorney matters so much even if you intend to settle your case without filing a lawsuit or going to trial. Colossus then specifically looks to your injuries as described in your medical records. One of the most important questions is whether the injuries are permanent. Colossus also gives higher values for objective injuries (broken bones, herniated discs) measured by diagnostic testing than soft tissue injuries. It does give, however, values for muscle spasm (for which Colossus gives particular weight in cases without a defined objective injury), restriction on movement, radiating pain, anxiety, depression, headaches, dizziness, and visual disturbance. Colossus also gives greater value in accident cases where the patient went to the hospital for initial treatment of the injuries immediately after the accident. Colossus takes this information and generates a range of settlement values for that accident case. While Colossus and similar programs do have some value, the problem with them is they cannot grasp the complexity of a person's pain and suffering. There is no computer that can ascertain pain and suffering or how an injury really impacted a person's life. How much is it worth to not be able to pick up your newborn baby without extreme pain? There is no way a computer can answer this question. This is why your personal injury lawyer must fully explain why your injuries are different or be prepared to file a lawsuit. When your lawyer files a lawsuit, the insurance companies will sometimes take a second look at the real trial value of the case, particularly when they know that the lawyer handling the case is willing to go to trial. While Colossus cannot appreciate pain, suffering and the true impact of the injury on the victim, judges and juries tend to listen to and consider many of the factors that Colossus ignores because it does not understand them. It is only a formula. Juries make distinctions on how much your case is worth based upon whether or not they think the plaintiff is an honest, good person who has suffered as a result of their injuries. In reality, juries are, in many ways, the opposite of Colossus because juries respond to human pain and suffering. A jury may not award damages based on the nuances of a C4/C5 cervical herniated disc injury but it will award damages because Mom used to be a shopaholic for her three kids at Christmas time but now cannot get off a bench at the mall because her neck hurts so much when she walks. A computer cannot understand this kind of impact and never will. The very purpose of a jury in our legal system is to take these types of intangibles into consideration to render a fair verdict.

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