This question is the one that is usually the elephant in the room when talking with clients. Most clients feel awkward and ashamed to be thinking of money after they or a loved one have suffered an injury. Others have accepted the fact that it is mostly what the case is about because the defendant’s conduct is done—there is no going back to undue the past so the only sensible way to make up for the harm is money. The truth is, money is all there will be. If we accept your case, it will come down to money and you making a decision that is the best for you and your family.
The real answer to the question “How much is my case worth?” or “How much compensation will I receive?” is a moving target. Very rarely can any lawyer tell you what your case is worth in your first meeting. There are a variety of factors that make up the value of a case. Below is a partial list you and your lawyer must consider when trying to place a value on your case.
- The level of injury. Injuries can vary from person to person. Significance and disability are something that must be looked at when evaluating a claim. It is important to remember that many injuries take time to fully develop. Most injuries are not acute—meaning you won’t feel them immediately. Because of the time it takes, the value of the case will fluctuate. Additionally, a broken leg may not be as much as an inconvenience to a person who works a desk job but it can be downright disabling to someone who cuts grass for a living. The level of injury must be taken together with the individual dealing with the harm before a proper value can be estimated. There is no one size fits all arrangement for personal injuries. Individualized attention is a must.
- Permanence of harm. When evaluating a case, the attorney must look at the permanence of injury, if any. We also must look at whether the injury, permanent or not, has compromised the client in any way. Does a cervical strain cause future, more severe injuries because of scar tissue? Is someone more likely to be harmed after experiencing a certain type of injury? Has the incident/injury caused psychological issues? Will any of this resolve? Those questions are just a sampling of what must be looked at when evaluating the case. The permanence of the harm is a major factor that must be considered. The more permanent the injury, the more severely affected the client is and the value should increase to compensate for the permanence. However, this process is very subjective as well. No two injuries affect people the same and what may be permanent for one is just a minor blip for another. It is important to sit down with each client to properly evaluate the permanence of harm or confirm if there is permanence or not.
- Insurance coverage. When looking at the value of a claim, one of the most important factors is the level of insurance coverage. In Missouri, for auto insurance, the current state minimum required coverage is $25,000 per person and a maximum of $50,000 per occurrence. If a client is killed or very severely injured in an auto crash, the case could be worth a lot. However, the case is truly only worth what you can get for it—what is recoverable. So if a person is significantly injured and the only available coverage is $25,000, then the case will only recover $25,000. A high level of injury does not translate to a valuable case if there is no insurance coverage or other funds available to cover the injury. Therefore, the attorney must take time to evaluate all possible areas of recovery and attempt to hook all potential insurance coverage to maximize the recovery for the client.
- Conduct of the defendant. The actions of the defendant must never be overlooked. Many times the actions of the defendant will be something that can increase the value of the case. If a defendant acted recklessly or with intentional harm in mind, the case goes up in value. A good example is the drunk driver defendant—a drunk hits another person and causes injury. The drunk is exposed to punitive damages because of the reckless behavior and outrageous disregard for the safety of others. Such actions by the defendant allow for punitive damages. “Punitive Damages” allow the defendant to be punished for their actions so that others may see the example and be deterred from similar conduct. It serves the public interest to have drunk drivers punished severely because it makes us all safer. Therefore, the imposition of punitive damages goes beyond compensating the victim and moves into the realm of punishing the defendant. Punitive damages are recoverable in addition to the physical/emotional damages if the case allows it. A good lawyer will always consider the conduct of the defendant when evaluating a case.
- Medical bills. In the right cases, medical bills must be considered for the value. This really works best when an individual is uninsured for health benefits. In this instance, that person has been injured and incurred bills, all without health insurance coverage. The bills that must be paid are much higher rates than what an insurance company pays the hospital. If a person has been injured and their insurance has paid most of the cost of the care, it may not be worthwhile to consider the medical bills as part of your case value estimate. Most attorneys will always want to consider medical bills as the primary anchor for case evaluation. The old formula was 3x your medical bills is generally the value of your case. However, in Missouri, the jury is now allowed to hear two different values when it comes to your bills if you have health insurance. Now, the defendant is able to get a benefit from your paying for health insurance. In an odd and nonsensical twist, it makes financial sense in a personal injury lawsuit for the injured to NOT have any health insurance. Because if you do, the defendant will claim a discount on your medical bills and therefore reduce the overall cost they must pay. It may not make sense in your specific case to anchor your claim to the medical bills. Injuries and harms go beyond just bills. If all you are looking for is a debt collector, we will be happy to refer you to someone. But if we take your case, we feel it is worth more than just what the hospital says your bill is.
- Adjuster on the case. Adjusters for insurance companies vary from company to company. Therefore, just like any other humans, there will be variances in the values they place on cases. Some individual adjusters are easy to work with and understand the economics of making decent offers to resolve cases. Others try very hard to impress their bosses and make hard-nosed , lowball offers that can be insulting. One thing to keep in mind in the personal injury business is that you should never be insulted by an offer. Any offer to settle is just the adjuster’s opinion of value on the case. The adjuster usually has a limited list of factors they can consider and therefore may not fully grasp the case. It may require that a lawsuit be filed and the case be taken to trial. This is something you must be comfortable with when first meeting with attorneys. Ask your attorney if they plan on filing a lawsuit if necessary and whether the attorney is willing to do so. Ask them how many cases they litigate and if they feel comfortable in the courtroom. It’s important to have a lawyer who will take the case all the way because if you draw an adjuster on your file that refuses to consider all of your damages, harms and losses, it will be necessary to file suit.
The list above is just a sampling of what must be considered when attempting to place a value on your case. At our office, we are very cautious about placing a value on any case until we are certain of all of the damages. We will never promise any amount of recovery until we have firm offers. We feel that promising something we have no control over is irrational and just a guess. Should you have any further questions/inquiries, feel free to send us a chat or call us directly at 314.646.0300.