Experienced personal injury attorneys know there is no question asked more often and as difficult to answer than; What is my case worth? The answer to this question is based upon many factors which an experienced personal injury lawyer can best answer.
Our system of civil justice is terrible at valuing the loss, but rather consistently values the lawsuit. For instance, there are many cases involving horrific tragedies such as the death of a child, the loss of which can never be compensated for. Nonetheless, our judicial system attempts to assign a value to such an incomprehensible losses. Hence, the value of most lawsuits never truly compensate for the irreplaceable loss of life or limb. So how do we lawyers come up with a value for injury cases? Understanding this is an imperfect science, lets get cracking.
Most experienced personal injury lawyers will consider the below factors, as well as personal experience, to provide clients with a range of what a case may be worth. The factors that determine value of a personal injury case include:
1) Strength of liability
3) Severity of Injury
4) Medical Bills: past and future
5) Economic Loss: Wages and Loss of services
6) Aggravating Factors
7) Skill of Attorneys
Strength of liability: The settlement value of a case will often be greatly affected by the strength of the liability. For instance, if two auto accident plaintiffs have the same injury (broken back) the pretrial settlement offers may vary greatly based upon the strength of the liability argument.
If liability is clear (rear end collision), than the pretrial offer will be higher to take into account that there will be a verdict, and it is just a question of how much. On the other hand, if liability is disputed and the defendant has a chance of winning on liability, the pretrial settlement offer will be considerably less to reflect the real possibility that the defendant may walk away paying nothing.
Venue: Venue is the legal term for location. Historically, Maryland jury verdicts in urban areas are significantly higher than verdicts in rural areas. For this reason, plaintiff’s lawyers are often trying to find legal justification to file suit in favorable or pro-plaintiff jurisdictions. Most plaintiff’s lawyers will agree that the most favorable venues for an injury plaintiff in Maryland are Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. This is true for winning disputed liability cases and also obtaining higher verdicts. In most injury cases, venue is proper where the accident occurred, or where one or more of the defendants resides or regularly conducts business. It is fair to say that the same case, if tried in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, will more often than not result in a larger jury verdict in Baltimore City.
Severity of Injury: The more significant a victim’s injuries, the higher the verdict. The legal system values the loss of limb more than say soft tissue injury. In addition, if a victim has permanent injury, impairment, or disfigurement (scaring), the case has significantly more value.
Medical Bills: Maryland has a non-economic cap of damages currently at $710,000.00 for injury cases and $650,000.00 for medical malpractice cases. In cases of wrongful death, with more than one survivor, this number may be greater. For this reason, the awarding of past and future medical bills will significantly affect a jury verdict because this portion of the award is not affected by the cap. Medical bills, if properly documented, are awarded dollar for dollar. Thus, the higher the medical bills, the higher the verdict.
Economic Loss: Another part of an award is lost wages and loss of household services. Like medical bills, this damage is not subject to the non-economic cap in Maryland. Past lost wages, if properly documented, are awarded dollar for dollar. Future wages, if supported by the injury and expert medical and economic testimony, are normally awarded in present day value. Loss of household services, such as the ability to do laundry or clean, is also a line item award that is not subject to the cap.
Aggravating Factors: Although aggravating factors should not play a role in juror’s minds when awarding damages once liability is determined, the reality is they do. A person injured by a negligent drunk driver will inevitably receive a higher verdict than a person injured by a negligent sober driver. Juries tend to “punish” defendants they don’t like by awarding higher verdicts to the plaintiff. Conversely, if a plaintiff shows a “bad attitude” or seems “undeserving”, the verdict may be less for the same reasons.
Skill of Attorney: The skill and preparation of your attorney will also affect the value of the case both in the settlement offered and the award. This variable is hard to quantify, but it goes without saying that lawyers with track records of large verdicts are likely to do it again. History seems to repeat itself.
In summary, properly valuing a plaintiff’s injury case is difficult even for experienced lawyers. There are many factors, many of which I have discussed above, which affect the value of a case. Often lawyers will look at past verdict history in a particular jurisdiction to establish a likely range of what a jury may do. The problem is that no two cases are exactly the same and no two juries are ever the same. Therefore, plaintiff’s are best served by relying on the judgment and reasoning of experienced counsel when determining value.
For a complimentary evaluation of the value of your injury case, please contact me for a consultation.