As a personal injury lawyer, one of the questions I’m asked all the time is, “how much is my case worth?”
The question is a good one, and it’s an important one, but it generally cannot be answered during your first meeting with your lawyer, or even during your fifth meeting. At some point during the representation, you should have a frank discussion with your lawyer about the value of your case, but you should understand that your lawyer needs accurate information first (and lots of it). Your lawyer then needs to apply that information to many different factors to come up with an estimate of the value of your case.
As for the information, I’m sure you can guess what your lawyer needs:
- The investigating officer’s accident report
- Witness statements
- Photographs of the crash or incident site
- Photographs of the injuries
- Medical records relating to the injuries and your recovery
- Billing records
- Medical records pre-dating the crash or incident
- Information about pre-existing conditions
- Information about prior injuries or accidents
- Information about your activity level before the crash or incident
- Information about your activity level now
- Information from doctors about your diagnoses, treatment, prognosis, and causation (i.e. whether your current condition was caused by the crash, or whether you had a pre-existing condition that was aggravated by the crash, or not)
Gathering this kind of information takes time, and so does the review process and evaluation.
Furthermore, understand that there will be an insurance adjuster or a defense lawyer on the other side who is also reviewing and evaluating this information. But this person is evaluating the information from a completely different perspective -- with the goal of undermining and devaluing your case in order to pay the least amount possible to you. Thus, the insurance adjuster or defense lawyer might see things your lawyer doesn’t. Or at the very least, they will highlight the negative aspects of your case.
While you don’t have to agree with the insurance adjusters or defense lawyer’s assessment, understand that your case does have weaknesses. Every case does, even if you believe or have been told your case is a “slam dunk.”
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
A good lawyer knows how to accentuate the strengths and deal with the weaknesses. Trying to hide weaknesses or cover them up doesn’t work. In fact, it can ruin the value of an otherwise decent case. Weaknesses must be recognized and addressed, so whatever you do, don’t try to keep anything from your lawyer! You are an open book in this process to the defense, who will have access to everything about you (from your birth certificate to your high school yearbook) and who might even hire a private investigator to do surveillance on you. Seriously. So, be an open book to your lawyer, who has your best interest at heart and will strategize about how best to present all the information from birth to present -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.
FACTORS THAT DETERMINE VALUE
With all that in mind, here are some of the factors your lawyer will look at that have an effect on the value of your case:
- The strength of your case on the issue of negligence
- The strength of your case on the issue of causation
- The strength of your case on the issue of damages
- The number of economic losses (i.e. medical expenses, lost wages, etc.)
- The amount of non-economic losses (i.e. pain and suffering, etc.)
- The ability to collect from the defendant (i.e. the amount of insurance coverage available)
- The venue of the lawsuit
- The trial judge assigned to the case
- The expense of trial
- The existence and availability of key witnesses
- The strength of treating physicians’ testimony
- The existence and strength of expert testimony
This list is not necessarily exhaustive but it hits on the key factors. Notice that the value of other cases is not on the list. This is because every case is unique. Thus, the value of your case cannot be based on a headline or news story about some case in Ohio or California, or even another case in Wyoming or Colorado. Your case is unique, and your lawyer is the most equipped person to assess the value.
You should have a frank conversation with your lawyer about these factors to determine the value of your case, which will then help you decide whether to settle for what the insurance company is offering or whether to file a lawsuit and go to trial. If you’re honest about the value of your case, you can end up with a positive experience and a positive result.
With over 175 years of combined experience, Bailey | Stock | Harmon | Cottam | Lopez LLP has helped injured victims involved in car accidents, trucking accidents, work injuries, wrongful death, and many more.
Contact us at (307) 222-4932, or online for award-winning legal representation.