How Lawyers Determine Case Value in Auto Accident Cases
Clients and potential clients often want to know: “How much is my case worth?” However, it often is not until the end of a case, when all the evidence has been collected and the client has completed medical treatment, that we are able to determine case value. This is because it is impossible to say what a claim is worth prior to obtaining and considering all the evidence, and before knowing the degree to which the injured person will recover.
We hope this page will help you understand the kinds of things we take into consideration when determining what we think a personal injury claim is worth.Step 1: What are the injured person’s damages?
The first step is to determine the injured person’s damages. There are multiple elements of damages that may be available in an auto injury case, including:
- Medical expenses (past and future)
- Wage loss (past and future)
- Other economic damages (past and future)
- Pain, suffering, and disability (past and future)
- Loss of consortium (past and future)
Obviously, a person paralyzed for life has greater damages than a person who suffers neck and back whiplash injuries lasting a couple months.Step 2: What is the chance of proving liability?
The second step in determining case value is to assess the likelihood of proving that the defendant is liable. In auto accident injury cases, this means proving that the defendant was negligent and that the defendant’s negligence caused the crash. Sometimes, liability is clear, such as in most rear-end crashes. Other times, liability is less clear, such as in cases where two cars merge into the same lane at the same time, or in cases involving conflicting witness testimony.
To determine the value of a claim, a lawyer must assess the chance that the plaintiff will be able to prove liability, and discount the plaintiff’s total damages for the risk of losing liability at trial. In a rear-end case, there would generally be no reason to discount case value due to risk of losing liability. In other cases, such as a case where some witnesses say the light was red while others say it was green, overall case value must be reduced to account for the fact that the jury might believe the other side’s witnesses over your witnesses.Step 3: What is the chance the plaintiff will be found comparatively negligent?
This relates closely to step two, but is slightly different. Where both parties’ negligence causes the crash, the defendant is only responsible for his proportionate share of damages. For example, if you T-boned the defendant after he negligently turned left in front of you while you were speeding, the jury might decide that the defendant’s negligence was 75% responsible for the crash and your negligence was a 25% cause. In cases involving a viable argument that the plaintiff was also negligent, case value must be reduced to account for the risk that the jury might not hold the defendant fully responsible.Step 4: What is the chance of proving the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the crash?
In order to recover each element of damages listed above, the plaintiff must show that the damages were caused by the crash. Sometimes causation is clear, and other times it is more ambiguous. Generally, if a person is taken from the scene of a crash directly to the hospital and has brand new bone fractures, there is no doubt that the crash caused those fractures. Causation may be more difficult to prove in the following circumstances:
- There was a delay in onset of the plaintiff’s symptoms (the further out from the crash, the less likely the condition was caused by the crash)
- Objective medical tests are inconclusive (e.g. the plaintiff has a normal MRI but continues to experience symptoms)
- The injury complained of is not of the type expected from the facts of the incident
- The plaintiff had a prior medical condition afflicting the same part of the body
- There was another event around the same time as the crash which also could have caused the conditions complained of (e.g. plaintiff is involved in a car crash and fell down the stairs the next day)
Whenever there is a risk that a jury may find that the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from some cause other than the crash, case value must be adjusted to account for that risk.Step 5: Are there any other considerations that impact case value?
- Uniquely high costs of pursuing claim (e.g. complicated medical conditions which will require expensive expert witness testimony, or anticipated travel costs related to deposing witnesses out of state)
- “Bad evidence” (e.g. case value should be reduced where there is evidence that will make the jury dislike the plaintiff or other key witnesses, particularly evidence suggesting dishonesty)
- Likeability of the defendant (juries are less likely to award significant damages where they see the defendant as a good and likeable person)
This is not an exhaustive list of all considerations taken into account by lawyers, but hopefully gives you an idea of the type of information we look at in determining the expected settlement value of a claim.