We get this question a lot. When we get it early on – while the client is still treating for her injuries, the answer is, “we don’t know”. It depends on how well and how quickly you heal”. But once the client is done healing and we can see what her “permanent” prognosis is, including any permanent pain, limitations or scars, we can take a stab at it.
Take a stab at it? Kind of a brutal metaphor for a personal injury case valuation. How about this: We can establish a “ballpark” estimate of what the case is likely worth. There is no “exact” value number because determining the “value” of a case is an art, not a science.
Here’s how we do it:
- STEP ONE: Determine what the injuries are worth: We try to figure out what a jury would give you for your injuries if “liability” was not an issue at all. In other words, if a judge said to the jury, “defendant is 100% liable of these injuries. What is fair compensation to the plaintiff for these injuries?” The answer to that question will determine what your injury is worth (but not necessarily what your case is worth. See number (2) below). When we calculate the “value” of the injuries, we look primarily at what other juries have given for similar injuries, and at what our own juries have given our clients. The greater the pain and suffering and disabilities, and the longer they endure, and the larger the medical bills and income loss, the more juries generally give. Example: A broken finger that heals completely in three months is worth very little, while an amputated leg on a 21-year-old (who has to live that way for the rest of his long life) is worth a millions. Because the duration of the pain and suffering counts significantly, the value of the same permanent injury on a 21-year old is worth far more than on an 80-year old. An 80-year old who lost his leg has to endure that injury for only a few years, but the 21-year old for a lifetime. So the first step is too look through past jury verdicts (we have a way of looking at past verdicts from all over the State of New York) and deciding what an average jury would give you, at your age, for your injuries (assuming defendant is “liable” for them).
- STEP TWO: Determine the “chances of success” in proving the defendant is “liable”. In this step, we try to figure out what percentage chance we have of convincing a jury the defendant is “liable” for your injuries. You might have horrendous injuries, but if the defendant is not found “liable” for them, a jury will give you nothing. Thus, if the defendant has some good “defenses” (example: If you attempted to cross the street without looking because you were busy reading your phone, and the motorist who struck you had almost no time to react to your sudden departure from the curb) the chances of success are low. On the other hand, if it is clear that defendant is liable (example: You were crossing in a crosswalk on a green light and defendant ran a red light and ran you over) then the chances are just about 100%. Whatever the percentage chance of success is, we will multiply that percentage by the dollar value of your injuries to give us a ballpark figure of the case’s value. Example: You have injuries worth $100,000. If your chances of winning at trial are 100%, then your case is worth $100,000. But if your chances of winning at trial are only 30% then case is worth $30,000 ($100,000 x .30). We are essentially calculating into the “value” of the case the risk of losing. NOTE: This is just a quick summary of the “liability” component of deciding value of a case. You can read a more complete version in my book, “Understanding Your New York Personal Injury Claim” (free!). In the book I explain how concepts like “comparative negligence” and “causation” are factored in. After step two, we now have a rough “case value” that has to now be modified by other “factors”
- STEP THREE: Other factors to be considered in determining case value: Most of our cases are venued in rural counties in Upstate New York (because that’s where the parties reside and where the accident happened). Juries are “stingy” in such venues. The jury pool generally consists of frugal farmers and others who are adverse to the idea of someone getting money in exchange for injuries. They tend to give small verdicts when compared to big-city juries, where juries award much more, especially in New York City and Buffalo. Jury verdicts in the Bronx, for example, are on average 3 to 5 times times greater than in Wayne County for the exact same injuries!. We also consider the money the defendant has available to us. If the car that hit you has only $25,000 in insurance and the car’s owner/driver is broke, your case – no matter how awful your injuries – is worth only $25,000. You can’t get water from a rock! There are other factors we may consider too, but for the purpose of this blog post, we’ll leave it at that.
All these “factors”, and more, are explained more thoroughly in Chapter 7 of my free book, “Understanding Your New York Personal Injury Claim.” Email or call us to get your free copy.
Finally, remember that when we talk about the “value” of the case, we are looking at what a reasonable insurance company and a reasonable injured plaintiff would arrive at as a settlement figure, based on the injury and the risks of trial. But there are plenty of “unreasonable” insurance adjusters, and injured plaintiffs, which is why we have to try cases. In those cases, the jury will determine who was right or wrong regarding the: “value”. With great trial lawyers (like us), you have a better chance of being “right”.