How much is my car accident case worth?
When we offer a free consultation to individuals who have recently been in a car accident, one of the most common questions we hear is “how much is my case worth?”
Why the Value Matters
The reason our clients ask this question is obvious. After a serious car accident, you may have mounting medical bills and property damage to your car. You may have missed work and therefore missed paychecks you need to stay afloat economically. Perhaps most importantly, the accident may cause serious emotional and psychological trauma, or temporary or permanent disability which will take years to recover from, if a full recovery is even possible.
You want to know that your attorney is going to fight tooth-and-nail to recover funds to compensate you for not only for your immediate injuries, but all of the resulting costs from the accident.
How we determine the Value of your Case
Determining the value of a case depends in turn in looking at three main kinds of factors.
First, we need to look at factors relating to how your accident occurred, and the injuries you suffered as a result. Some of these factors include who was at fault in the accident, the total amount of medical costs that are reasonably related to the accident, length of your treatment, documented wage loss, permanent partial or full disability status resulting from the accident, loss of enjoyment of life, and property damage to your vehicle.
Second, we look at a set of factors related to you. Specifically, your medical history, including pre-existing conditions, can have an impact on the value of your case. In addition, some personal characteristics, potentially including criminal history, any past legal claims, and other factors can influence the settlement we are able to negotiate on your behalf.
Third, we look at the defendants and their track record in these types of cases. Some insurance companies are more likely to settle a claim quickly than others. In addition, if there are individual defendants, such as an uninsured person who hit you, we will need to assess their financial situation. In rare cases, a high-wealth individual may be liable and we can negotiate a settlement with their attorneys.
What about my Case Specifically?
Below, we will explain in more detail how all of these factors influence your settlement. Every case is completely different, and so a full analysis from a qualified lawyer is necessary to determine the value.
That being said, we have found that claims are typically worth approximately between two and five times the cost of medical bills directly related to the accident. In a simple case with a short length of treatment costing $8,000, we might see a settlement of $16,000.
In a more serious case with special circumstances, on the other hand, we might be able to negotiate a far higher settlement. The exact settlement that is possible will depend on all of the factors described in detail below.
Circumstances of the Accident
The first set of factors we look at includes the circumstances of the accident as well as the resulting injuries and other economic costs associated with the accident.
Who is at Fault?
Of these factors, the single most important is who was at fault in the accident. If you were at fault, there may be little we can do to help you. We still encourage you to contact us. You may think you were at fault in the accident, but in fact were not, or fault is in fact shared between you and another driver. Please call us if you are not sure, and we can give you a free consultation to determine the value of your claim.
After we have determined who is at fault in the accident, we look at the total amount of medical costs that are reasonably related to the accident. This includes all of the costs resulting from the accident, including emergency room visits, primary doctor appointments, medical devices, surgery, and prescription drugs, among other costs. It also includes a full range of rehabilitative services you may have needed after the accident, such as physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractor or massage appointments. If the accident caused emotional damage, and you required counseling, those costs may also be included as reasonably connected to the accident.
Some of the things we might exclude are treatment that did not work over a long period of time, but was continued anyways, or treatment you pursued without the advice of a medical doctor or other health professional, depending on the circumstances. We also might exclude some costs that appear to be related to pre-existing conditions, unless those conditions were made worse by the accident.
Length of Treatment
The next thing we will look at is how long your treatment lasted, as well as how effective the treatment was. You are generally entitled to compensation for treatment of injuries connected to the accident so long as that treatment is continuing to improve your condition. We will look at the full record of your treatment and determine how that will impact your compensation.
Documented Wage Loss
The next element of your case we will examine includes any documented wage loss. In other words, did you miss work because of the accident?
This is not a simple matter to prove, however. We need documentation for any wage loss, which is sometimes difficult to obtain.
First, we need an official doctor’s note from your primary physician confirming that your injuries prevent you from carrying out the normal duties of your job. For example, if your job requires lifting heavy equipment, and your arm is broken, your doctor may release you from working. Your doctor may also release you from performing certain tasks at your job, or allow you to work with reduced hours. No matter what your doctor says, we need official documentation, including not only a hand-written note, but an official letter included in your medical file.
Second, we will need documentation from your employer on exactly what wages you missed as a result of the accident. Simply having a paystub is not necessarily sufficient, in the eyes of the law. Ideally, your employer will provide a letter listing the hours you missed and wages lost. To ease the process, we typically will document this information and then request the employer sign a statement confirming the wages lost. But they may be unwilling to sign such a statement if you have not worked with them to document the time beforehand. The relative strength of documentation for your wage loss will ultimately impact the value of your case.
More information about this subject can be found here.
Next, we will look at ongoing and future damages due to permanent partial or full disability. If you are permanently disabled as a result of the accident, the value of your case will rise because you will suffer long-term future costs.
However, proving disability is not an easy matter. We will look at your official disability status in the eyes of the government, your doctor’s assessment, and other factors to confirm that you have a documented disability reasonably connected to the accident.
Loss of Enjoyment of Life
Closely related to disability, you may suffer loss of enjoyment of life due to the accident. For instance, if you are an avid runner, and suffered permanent leg damage due to the accident, you lost out on opportunities to run. Similarly, your injuries may prevent you from playing sports with your kids, or engaging in hobbies like gardening, skating, cycling, etc. We will look at lost opportunities such as these when valuing your case.
While property damage is perhaps the first thing most people think about after a car accident, it may actually not be a high source of value in your case. This is especially true if your vehicle only suffered a few scrapes and cosmetic damage, and the cost of repairs is low. It is also true if your vehicle was not worth very much at the time of the accident, and thus can be totaled for a relatively small amount of money.
On the other hand, if your car is brand new, or is a luxury car with significant resale value, and it is completely destroyed, the value of your case will increase dramatically.
In addition, if your vehicle suffers reduced resale value, also known as diminished value, you may deserve compensation for that reduced value. However, the diminished value will depend on a number of factors, and an expert will likely be needed to appraise the lost value.
How you Impact the Value of the Case
The second set of factors we look at it in determining the value of your case has to do with you and your history. This includes your medical history, such as pre-existing conditions, any criminal background, and your legal history including past claims against insurance companies.
Note that some of these factors really should not matter, and as a strict matter of the law, they often don’t. However, they will influence the insurance company’s willingness to offer a fair settlement, and so we have to keep them in mind when valuing a case.
Medical History and Pre-existing Conditions
As noted above, we will look at your full medical history when valuing your case. One of the elements we will check closely includes any pre-existing conditions that are similar to conditions caused by the accident. For instance, if you suffered from migraines for several years before the accident, your ability to connect certain medical issues to the accident may be more difficult. To value your case, we will have to keep pre-existing conditions in mind, as the insurance company may claim that your medical condition is not the result of the accident.
In an ideal world, any criminal history you might have should not matter in valuing your case. However, the reality is that insurance companies may keep this in mind when assessing your credibility and trustworthiness. If you have a clean legal record, they may be more likely to believe your claims and offer a higher settlement. If you have a criminal history, they may be less likely to trust you, and the settlement we can negotiate may be lower as a result.
Past Legal Claims
Again, in an ideal world, your legal history should not matter when valuing your case. However, insurance companies may take this into account. For instance, if you have a history of litigating claims, your insurer may fear your willingness to take a case to trial. On the other hand, they may believe that your legal history makes you untrustworthy. This is especially true if you have been in a number of car accidents over the years. Your insurer may look at your accident history and conclude you are less likely to be telling the truth about the most recent one. Either way, this is a factor that is not technically relevant in a strict legal sense, but we may have to keep it in mind when valuing your case.
How the Defendants Affect the Value of your Case
The last set of factors we will look at the value your case have to do with the defendants, including both the insurance companies and the other driver(s) in the accident.
Which Insurance Company?
One of the first questions we ask in a free consultation is which insurance company your policy is with. This is because different insurance companies act differently on certain types of cases. Some companies are more likely to fight claims more aggressively, while others are more likely to settle for a fair amount more quickly.
Your insurance policy may also impact the value of the case. Specifically, if you were in a very serious accident, your total damages may exceed the limits in your policy. If that’s the case, the total value of your case may be limited by that ceiling. In addition, your insurer may settle more quickly for the policy maximum, allowing the company to save time and legal fees.
If the individual who caused the accident has no insurance, or if he or she has insurance but the policy limits have been exceeded, they may be personally liable for damages. However, this is a rare situation, as most folks with the assets to pay a significant settlement will have insurance. However, in the rare case where this does happen we may be able to pursue a legal claim against the individual in addition to his or her insurance company, and this can dramatically increase the value of your case.
There are a lot of factors that can impact the value of your case. We recommend that anyone who has been in a car accident speak to an attorney. Park Chenaur & Associates has more than 15 years of experience taking on these cases. Contact us for a free consultation.