When a client is involved in a personal injury lawsuit, the overall value of that case is very important to them. They want to know how much damages they stand to gain. The value of a claim is also an important factor for their legal team. Court and legal costs can be expensive, and the value of a case is an important factor in deciding how far to pursue a case and how much legal expense it is reasonable to accrue. There are a variety of factors to consider when determining the potential value of your case.
The Value of Economic Damages
All claims are entitled to at least the value of economic damages if they win. These damages are calculatable expenses like medical bills, property destruction and lost wages due to being injured or unable to work.
Economic damages are also the easiest and most straightforward part of a claim to determine. Add up the bills and direct monetary losses associated with the accident and you will have a figure for this number. The rest of the damages are dependent on a jury, and that is where values get more nuanced and depend more on the case your attorney makes in court than on any hard numbers.
Value of Insurance and Damage Caps
One limiting factor to most claims, especially if they involve medical malpractice or car accidents, is the value of the insurance policy that covers the damages. Most individuals will only be able to reasonably pay a settlement or judgement up to the value of their policy. Even if you are awarded more than that, it may be difficult or impossible to ever collect on it. In medical malpractice cases, there are also damage caps imposed by state law that limit the total amount of non-economic damages regardless of the jury’s decision.
The Number of Claimants
Sometimes accidents involve or affect more than one person. This is typically true when an entire family is involved in the accident. Each person affected may be entitled to some level of compensation even if they were not injured directly. For example, if a child and a spouse witness an accident that injured the other spouse, they may be entitled to a portion of the damages because of the emotional effect the accident had on them. The more claimants involved, the higher the damages will rise.
Case Law and Precedents
Case law involves examining similar past cases and drawing some conclusions about how those cases were resolved. Almost every type of accident has occurred before, and there is a great deal of case law to support most circumstances. These past cases give some indication of how a particular situation is likely to be valued. Insurance companies also use this information when they are negotiating settlement offers.
Sympathy of the Jury
If a case goes to court, the value of non-economic damages is determined by a jury. This can have a huge impact on the overall value of a case. The jury will be listening to an attorney’s arguments and to the facts of the case. They will also be observing the defendant and the plaintiff. There is a human element involved in this decision that cannot be avoided by any law, precedent or argument. If the jury feels a strong sympathy for the plaintiff or has experienced a similar incident or loss in the past, they will be more likely to award higher damages. In contrast, if they have low sympathy for the plaintiff or have equal sympathy for the defendant, they may award fewer damages than expected.
The jury pool itself also plays into this situation. Jurors for cases are called from the local population. This means that the demographic of a certain area can have an indirect but strong influence on the jury’s decision and the damages awarded.
The Overall Strength and Clarity of a Case
Most personal injury cases are settled out of court. This can have a major impact on the value of that case. If a case is settled, factors like a jury and argument don’t matter. What matters is how likely the other party, usually an insurance company, is to settle the case and how much they are likely to settle for.
Settlement depends largely on a case’s overall strength and clarity. If liability is clearly determined and there are few items in dispute, then a case is strong and will likely settle for a high amount. It also gives a plaintiff leverage to negotiate a higher amount than the insurance company is prepared to offer. No insurance company wants to go to court with a case they are very likely to lose, so they will pay a higher amount to avoid excessive court costs.
Determine the value of a case is not an easy process. Our attorneys may be able to give you the best insight into the value of your case and advice on how best to move forward.