Ten Factors which influence your personal injury case
Car Accidents , Compensation , General , Industrial Accidents , Personal Injury , Premises Liablity , Settlements
At the beginning of a personal injury case, clients often want to know, ‘what is my case worth?” I explain to them there are many factors which go into the value, so early in the case, it is impossible to know how these factors will play out. However, after 25 years of practicing personal injury law and 1000’s of clients, I have identified these 10 factors which influence a personal injury case.
Contributory negligence means if you were partially at fault for the accident. In a rear end accident, it is 100% the other person’s fault, so there is no contributory negligence. But in a slip and fall case, the insurance company may argue you should have been looking where you were going and assign 10-20% fault to you. This is contributory negligence. The higher the percentage of contributory negligence, the lower the value of your case. In fact, if you are found to be more than 50% at fault, you receive nothing!
Medical Treatment and Medical Bills
Insurance companies, and juries, evaluate cases based on your medical treatment. The rational is, the more medical treatment you have, the more serious your injuries. Conversely, no matter how seriously injured you may have been, if you have minimal medical treatment, your settlement will be greatly reduced. Did you go to the emergency room, follow up doctor, physical therapy, undergo an MRI or perhaps even more serious treatment such as surgery? Or, did you see your primary care physician once and take over the counter pain medication? These different courses of treatment will yield vastly different results.
Nature, Severity and Extent of your Injuries
Similar to medical treatment, the more serious your injury, the greater the recovery. Additionally, juries tend to believe injuries where there are objective, diagnostic tests like x-rays or MRI’s. This makes cases of back and neck strain difficult because there are no tests which show your pain. While it may seem obvious a surgery will yield a greater recovery, part of the reason is because of the objective nature of a surgery. A jury can see the injury, not just be told about it.
Is your Injury Permanent?
When a doctor has an opinion that you will have a permanent injury, the value of your case increases. A life time of pain and medical treatment will result in a higher value for your case than a period of disability lasting weeks or months with a full recovery. Additionally, your life expectancy will impact the size of the award since a younger person with permanent injuries will experience these symptoms for the rest of his or her life.
Pre-existing Injuries and Degenerative Conditions
If you have had back pain in the past, or you have arthritis in your knees prior to the accident, the insurance company will argue that your present complaints are the result of the natural aging process and degeneration and not the result of their negligence. The law does allow a recovery for the aggravation of any pre-existing condition, but they do tend to lower the value of the recovery.
Documented Lost Wages
Similar to medical bills, lost wages can also increase the value of your case. However, not just any lost wages, but well-documented and substantiated lost wages. First, you need a note from a doctor restricting you from work. Next, you need to be able to calculate the lost wages. If you work 9-5, Monday to Friday, for an hourly rate, this can be easy to prove. But, if you work on commission, or work from home or run your own business, calculating lost wages can be more difficult. A solid lost wage claim will increase the settlement value of a case.
The greater the damage to the vehicles involved, the greater the value of the case. Many jurors are skeptical people can be injured in low speed accidents with little visible damage to the cars involved. This is incorrect since there is no correlation between the damage to the car and the injuries, but that is the way many people think. Someone can be seriously injured in a low speed collision and be uninjured in a violent collision. Cars today, especially bumpers, are designed to absorb the impact of collisions, but this does nothing to protect the occupants of the car. But logic and science aside, the greater the property damage, the greater the settlement value.
The Actions of the Defendant
Depending on what the defendant did, or did not do, will impact the value of the case. The landlord who refused to fix a broken handrail despite repeated requests, a drunk driver, a corporation which continues to sell a dangerous product despite knowledge of the danger, these types of defendants yield better recoveries. Conversely, the mom who was distracted by her child crying in the back seat or the small shopkeeper who didn’t notice the spill on the floor or the defendant who admits they were at fault and expresses remorse, these types of defendants are more sympathetic and will result in lower verdicts.
What Insurance Company is Involved
Some insurance companies will offer larger settlements than others. They may base their settlement offer on the factors above, but some will be more generous than others. Some insurance companies would rather spend $10,000 to defend a small case than settle because of the message it sends to other injured people and their lawyers. Fly by night “sub standard” insurance companies live by the motto, deny, delay and don’t pay. Others take their responsibility for a claim more serious. You have no control over what insurance company you are dealing with, but it can make a difference in the value of your case.
Where your Case Takes Place
What county you were injured, whether in a case accident, a slip and fall or some other personal injury, will impact the value of your case. Some counties have the reputation for awarding larger sums of money and other counties are more conservative and the jury verdicts reflect this fact. Which county your case is in will impact the value of your case. The exact same case is worth significantly more if it happens in Cook County than if it happens in DuPage County. It’s a fact that all lawyers and insurance companies take into consideration when placing a value on your case.
While this list is not exhaustive, it represents my experience of factors which impact the value of a case. Many of these factors, you have no control over, while others, the advice of a personal injury lawyer at an early stage can make a difference. Of course, every case is different and there are many other factors which go into the value of a case, but hopefully this list of 10 factors which influence your personal injury case has been helpful. If you have any questions about a personal injury case, please feel free to contact us.