Hi, I’m John Medler, personal injury lawyer with The Medler Law Firm – Personal Injury & Accident Attorneys. Many people ask, what is my personal injury case worth? And the answer of course is, as you can imagine, it depends on many, many factors. And that’s why you need an experienced personal injury lawyer to give you an idea on how much your case is worth. But if you’re trying to figure it out, I can give you some general guidelines in terms of what your case might be worth.
What lawyers need to do when bringing a case for negligence is we need to establish essentially three things. Number one, we need to establish that the defendant in the case was negligent and failed to exercise ordinary care. Second, we need to establish that that negligence caused the injuries that the plaintiff sustained. So causation is the second element. And third, we need to establish damages. That what the defendant did caused you some injury or loss. So in terms of evaluating the worth of your case, the first thing we do is we say, how easy is it going to be for us to prove the negligence, causation, and damages?
For example, let’s talk about negligence. Let’s say that it’s crystal clear that the defendant ran the red light. You say he ran the red light, the defendant admitted to the police officer he ran the red light, and two eyewitnesses say that he ran the red light. That’s a pretty clear case of negligence. So in that case, your case would be worth more because it’s pretty clear that the jury’s going to find that the defendant was negligent. In other cases, it might not be so easy. Maybe there’s no eyewitnesses. Maybe you say he ran the red light and he says, you ran the red light. You can see that that case is going to be a little bit tougher. So your lawyer’s going to have to factor that in because there’s always the possibility at the end of the case that when you bring your case to a jury, the jury says, “I’m not awarding anything because I don’t think the defendant did anything wrong.” So you have to factor that in determining how much your case is worth.
The second factor is causation. Most of the time if the defendant was negligent, usually what’s going to happen is that negligence is going to cause your injury, but there are cases where causation can be disputed. Let’s say for example that you have a previous back condition, and then you get in an automobile accident, and that back injury is exacerbated. What might happen is the defendant might argue that the back symptoms that you’re experiencing, were not caused by this accident, but were caused by your previous condition that has nothing to do with them. So in that case, you’re going to have to prove causation.
Now, lucky for you, the standard in most cases is not that it has to be the sole cause, but many times the defendant’s conduct can be a substantial factor in causing it. So let’s say that you had a preexisting condition and that was made worse by what the defendant did and what the defendant did was a substantial factor in causing these exacerbated injuries. In that case you still establish causation. But lawyers still have to consider that factor in determining what your case is worth. The easier it is to prove causation, the more your case is worth.
And finally, the last issue is damages. The lawyer needs to know how seriously you were damaged, and more on that in a minute. But another factor that the lawyer needs to decide immediately is whether the defendant has insurance, and if so, how much? You can have the greatest case in the world, but if the defendant is broke, and has no insurance, your case ain’t going anywhere. And so that’s one of the first things we try to determine is how much insurance the defendant has. If the defendant has a lot of insurance, your case is worth a lot more. So let’s talk about those damages.
There are two basic types of damages that you can recover. The first is called ‘special damages’ and the second is called ‘general damages.’ Special damages are those types of damages that it’s easy to put a mathematical number on. So for example, if you had medical bills caused by the accident, we know exactly what those medical bills cost. So that’s a special damage. Another example is lost wages. Let’s say because of this accident you were laid up for two months and you didn’t get your paycheck. Because of that, that’s easy to calculate mathematically. So that’s special damages.
And what about lost earning capacity? Let’s say that for example, your injury was so bad that now you can’t do your job again. Maybe your job made $50,000 a year. You would have had that $50,000 a year for the rest of your working life. So you’re able to claim that as damages. And that’s another example of special damages cause you can easily quantify it. So that’s special damages, and one of the first things that will happen is your lawyer will tally up what those specialty images are.
The second factor is general damages. And those are the ones that are not so easy to calculate mathematically. It includes such things as emotional loss, things like pain and suffering, things like loss of enjoyment of life. When I say loss of enjoyment, for example, we had one case where a gentleman was a karate instructor, and he loved karate. And as a result of his accident, he can never do karate again. Well, that’s a significant loss for that gentleman, that might not be a big deal for you and I. But karate was his life. So loss of enjoyment of life is another factor that we talk about for general damages.
When we try and figure out how much the case is worth, how much do we put on general damages? After all, you can ask a jury for any amount of money you want. You can ask for $100,000, a million dollars, you can ask for $100 million if you want to. So how do we figure out what’s a good value for those general damages, which are kind of nebulous and hard to quantify. Here’s what personal injury lawyers normally do. They look at what are called ‘jury verdict reports.’ So every time there’s a jury verdict, they’re put in a report, and lawyers look at those from time to time. And what we tried to do is spot trends. How much do juries normally award?
And what we’ve found over the years is that if you tally up the special damages, most of the time the jury’s verdict is going to be somewhere two times to three times what the special damages are. So for example, if your special damages are $100,000, most of the time the total verdict at the end is going to be between 200,000 and 300,000. So let’s say it’s 300,000. That intervening $200,000 is what you get for those general damages like pain and suffering.
Now I get many people that are confused by this. So many lawyers don’t even like to tell people about this rule of two times specials or three times specials because it’s not a rule. People think it’s guaranteed. It’s not. It’s just a general back of the envelope idea of what lawyers have of what a jury might do. Basically, it gives you a ballpark. Now there are cases when you’ve had special damages of $100,000 that a jury’s awarded $10 million. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s what’s going to happen. But what we try and do when evaluating the value of your case is we get back of the envelope, a general idea of what we think it’s worth. So those are damages and that factors into the calculus.
There’s other things that your lawyer may have to consider. One of those is what we lawyers call ‘poison.’ Poison is something that gets a jury so angry that they’re going to award a lot more than they normally would. For example, if one of the parties was driving drunk, that’s going to get the jury very angry, and if there’s that kind of poison in the case, you can count on the verdict being a lot higher. We had a case where the defendant had a long criminal record and that type of thing can come into evidence. Most of the time the jury’s not going to like a guy who’s got a long criminal record. So you have to look at what poisons in the case.
Another factor is witness demeanor. So you want to look at your client and the defendant and find out do they make good witnesses? Do you think the jury will like them? And we have to factor those things in. Another factor is what we call ‘venue.’ What court we’re going to file this in. A lot of times in large metropolitan areas, the jury verdicts will tend to be higher than those in rural areas. So one of the things we look at is where is the case filed? Because that will impact on what the case is worth. We also look at who are our opponents on the other side. Who are the lawyers? Are they any good? Just like any case, if you’re playing a sports game, you want to find out, do you have Michael Jordan on the other side or do you have a guy that can’t dribble? So that’s important. And the same thing is true for the judge. We need to find out who the judge is, and what that judge’s history might be because that could affect the rulings in the case. And there are many, many other factors like this that personal injury lawyers have to figure out, and you can see it’s a very complicated process.
Not something that a non-lawyer can figure out easily. In fact, figuring out the value of your case is really more art than science, and it requires personal injury lawyers to use a lot of their experience. Fortunately, I’ve been handling personal injury cases for over 25 years so I have that experience. But even I, when I’m trying to figure out the value of the case, will often call up five or six friends of mine who are also personal injury lawyers. I’ll pitch the case to them and I’ll say, “What do you think the case is worth?” We combine all these factors together and then hopefully we arrive at a number that we think is appropriate for you to settle your case. If you want more information about what your case is worth and personal injury law in general, contact an Orange County personal injury attorney at The Medler Law Firm – Personal Injury & Accident Attorneys or check out our website at www.MedlerLawFirm.com.