Understanding what impacts the value of your case, and what you can do to help, or in some cases hurt the value, is essential to being part of a winning team. An auto accident case is a team effort. Your San Diego Auto Accident Lawyer is there to guide you and present your case, but the story is of your life so you need to be an active participant in shaping that story.
What’s Your Case Worth?
This is probably the number one question I get asked by potential clients. I always tell them the same thing:
It is worth whatever the insurance company or the jury is willing to give you.
What a jury is willing to give you is complex. It is much more complex than telling you, “well, in a case like yours you could typically expect to receive anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000.” Maybe that is true, but until the case develops and all the evidence is known, making a statement like this is not very responsible.
The number one thing that is going to maximize the value of your case is YOU! And the number one thing that is going to sink your case is you. Let’s talk about what you can do to help yourself:
- Be honest and do not exaggerate your injury. Your honesty is going to dictate how everything is viewed in your case. Your version of the incident; your complaints of pain; your description of how this incident has changed your life – all of these things are going to depend on whether people believe you are being honest.
- Do everything your doctors ask of you. If they ask you to lose weight, you do everything you can to lose weight. If they want you doing exercises at home, you do the exercises. Follow every order they give you. Do NOT miss appointments without a very good reason. If you have to miss an appointment, call the doctor and reschedule.
- Do not live your life depending on your personal injury case. Too often people allow their personal injury case consume their daily living. You have to live your life as if the case does not exist because a verdict in your favor is never a guarantee.
I really cannot overemphasize enough how much YOU make a difference in the value of your case. Just as I cannot tell you what a jury is willing to give you, the attorney for the insurance company cannot tell them how much a jury will give you. But I can tell you with certainty that if you come across as a likeable person, somebody that is not depending on your case but is doing everything you can to move on with your life, somebody who is following all of the directions of their doctors and somebody that is being honest, the insurance company will not want to take a chance of going to trial.
Typical Personal Injury Damages
Now let’s talk about the typical personal injury damages. Each of these areas has exceptions and limitation, but I am not going to get into all of that here – this will be a summary. What are you entitled to recover if you were in an accident? There are three types of damages you can recover: economic damages, non-economic damages and punitive damages. Punitive damages are easy to address: they are intended to punish the defendant for despicable conduct, and they are fairly rare. I will address them in more detail at another time, but for now that is about all you really need to know.
Past Medical Bills
This is an easy number to determine with the proper documentation.
CAUTION: For those of you trying to settle your auto accident or other personal injury case without the assistance of lawyer, you should be aware that in California the law is that you can only recover the amount of medical bills that your medical insurance paid, not the amount your doctors billed. These numbers are often drastically different because your insurance pays much less than what your doctor bills. Make sure you have the correct numbers before you start trying to negotiate a settlement.
Future Medical Bills
You are entitled to recover money to pay for medical bills you will incur in the future as a result of an auto accident or other personal injury. If your case is being handled by a lawyer, then they will likely do two things before settlement with regard to your future medical bills – if you are trying to settle your case without a lawyer, you should do the same:
(1) wait until your injuries are permanent and stationary. In other words, there is no reason to begin discussing a settlement until your injuries are resolved.
(2) They will ask the doctor for a report stating his opinions as to what future medical care you might need, and how much that medical care will cost. It is not unusual to find treating physicians hesitant to give such opinions, so in that situation your lawyer will hire an expert to give those opinions.
Past Lost Wages
This is an easy number to calculate. You miss one month of work due to the injuries and you make $5,000 per month, then you include a claim for $5,000 in past lost wages.
Future Loss of Wages
You will be entitled to future loss of wages in the following circumstances:
(1) if you are not able to return to the same work or work hours due to your injuries, and
(2) if you are going to need future medical care, and that medical care will require you to take time off of work.
Pain and Suffering
Unlike the types of damages you are entitled to above where you can calculate a number, pain and suffering damages do not have any formula to determine the amount you deserve.
Often times you will hear people talk of pain and suffering as a multiplier. In other words, in an attempt to place a mathematical formula to determine how much should be awarded for pain and suffering, some will multiply your past and future medical bills by a number and that number then becomes your award for pain and suffering. For example, if you have $10,000 in medical bills, some would multiply that number by 3 and come up with $30,000. Under this example, they would say your case is worth $40,000.
I don’t like the multiplier method. I don’t think it takes into account the real issues people with injuries and going through. The law provides a number of categories under the guise of pain and suffering, and I believe each should be addressed individually to come to an accurate amount for pain and suffering. Those categories are as follows:
- Past physical pain
- Future physical pain
- Past mental suffering/Emotional Distress
- Future mental suffering/Emotional Distress
- Past Loss of Enjoyment of Life
- Future Loss of Enjoyment of Life
- Past Disfigurement
- Future Disfigurement
- Past Physical Impairment
- Future Physical Impairment
- Past Inconvenience
- Future Inconvenience
- Past Grief
- Future Grief
- Past Anxiety
- Future Anxiety
- Past Humiliation
- Future Humiliation
Not every case is going to include each of these categories, but the law does separate these out and so I think it within the injured person’s right to demand their pain and suffering compensation to be calculated for each of these categories individually, rather than just simply multiplying the medical bills by a number between one and five, with three seeming to be the most popular number. With that said, pain and suffering damages need to be reasonable and reflective of the injuries and damages suffered by you.
Things That Will Reduce What Your Case Is Worth
If you are partly at fault for the auto accident or other type of personal injury your received, then your damages will be reduced by the amount of fault owed to you. And that is how it should be handled. For example, if you are in an auto accident and your damages are $100,000, but you are 50% at fault, then you will only recover $50,000. So often times the defendant will claim you are partially to blame. If there is any merit to that claim, you or your auto accident lawyer need to take that into consideration when attempting to negotiate a settlement.
How Much is Your Case Worth?
It depends. How much are your economic damages? How bad are your non-economic damages? Are you likeable? Do you have family and friends that can give some compelling testimony about how these injuries have changed you?
Remember: Do not live your life based on your personal injury case. If you take that advice, you shouldn’t be concerned about how much your case is worth. All you need to know is that you feel confidant and comfortable with the lawyer you have hired to represent you, and you know that he or she will be doing everything in their power to maximize your recovery – and it is your job to do the same.