Understandably, many personal injury or auto accident plaintiffs want to know how much their case might be worth. Unfortunately, there is no easy or definitive way to answer that question. Frequently (although not always) injury claims involve auto accidents, truck accidents, or motorcycle accidents. In those cases, the insurance company of the other driver and/or the claimant’s own uninsured or underinsured vehicle insurance coverage must pay any valid claim.
Accident Lawyer’s Burning Question: How Much Insurance Coverage Is Involved?
So one of the most important first questions for any auto accident lawyer is how much insurance coverage is available? The total amount of insurance coverage often works as the functional cap on damages. However, if the lawyer can prove that the insurance company failed to pay the proper amount on the claim when they should have paid (which is when liability and damages are clear), then in those less frequent cases the lawyer may be able to establish that the insurance company operated in “bad faith,” in which case the insurance company would be liable for the full amount of the person’s damages. So an auto accident involving vehicles that only had 10K in coverage theoretically could lead to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars if the injuries are sufficiently severe. But bad faith cases are the exception. They happen but not often. In cases where bad faith is not involved, the various insurance policies on all of the vehicles in the accident (if they provide coverage as defined in the policies) operate as the functional cap on damages, regardless of the severity of the injuries.
Next Accident Attorney Question: How Clear Is Liability?
Whenever any car accident, trucking accident, motorcycle accident, pedestrian accident, or bicycle accident happens, as you might imagine, there are a million different scenarios that could have happened. Sometimes it is completely obvious that the other driver caused the accident, such as when a driver sped through a red light while texting and driving, or drinking and driving, or just distracted driving, and hit someone lawfully passing through the intersection at a safe speed. In other cases, liability is less clear, or fault might be partially attributable to both parties, such as when both parties were exceeding the speed limit or violating other traffic laws, or where one party caused the accident, but another party made his injuries worse by his failure to abide by seat belt laws.
Jury’s Assign Percentage Blame
In Florida, juries are instructed to calculate each party’s percentage of what is termed “comparative fault” in causing the injuries in any auto or other vehicle accident case (this and many other accident and injury laws vary by state). So the jury first decides the amount of overall damages and then determine the comparative fault of each of the involved parties. The claimant or plaintiff can only recover the percentage share of his injuries that the defendant caused. In other words, if the jury determines that the plaintiff suffered injuries that they valued at two hundred thousand dollars, but the jury felt that the plaintiff was 10% responsible for either the accident or making his injuries worse (such as when he was not wearing a seat belt), then the plaintiff can only recover 90% of the 200K from the defendant, or 180K. Even if the case never goes to trial, as most cases do not, the lawyers representing the insurance company try to make a rough calculation of how much fault the jury will attribute to their insured (the defendant) versus the plaintiff, and make their settlement offers based on their best guess of what the jury would be likely to award. That means that when liability is less clear, they will offer less money, and when the defendant is obviously liable, they will offer more money.
Next Accident Attorney Question: What Is The Plaintiff’s Medical Diagnosis & Treatments?
At the outset of an auto accident, trucking accident, motorcycle accident, bicycle accident, or pedestrian accident, even if liability is fairly clear or clear, very often the potential damages are a huge question mark because the damages relate to the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. And the plaintiff, practically speaking, faces a HIGH burden of proving those injuries (note that I am not referring to the burden of proof at trial under technical evidence rules, but instead to the practical reality of trying to prove injuries to an insurance company for purposes of settlement or persuading a jury that you really were seriously injured). This means that you cannot just have an accident, say that your neck hurts (without receiving treatment), then collect a check for 100K or even 50K, 20K or 10K. The insurance companies and juries generally are not inclined to award damages when they do not believe injuries are real. And there is only one way to prove that your injuries are real, and that is to get very immediate or early medical evaluation (ideally right after the accident or within 48 hours) and thorough treatment for ALL injuries. If a doctor runs scans and sees that your spinal cord was impacted during the accident (visible on MRIs), or that your brain hit the inside of your skull during a collision, then you have undeniable proof that you sustained a brain injury or spinal cord injury. Plaintiffs’ accident lawyers and insurance company defense lawyers study your medical records very carefully to determine whether the accident caused your injuries or whether you had a pre-existing condition (which means that the accident might not have caused your injuries and/or the accident only worsened a pre-existing condition, which still has value, but not as much as when the accident caused a brand new injury).
Additionally, and very importantly, to maximize the value of your accident claim, you absolutely must be diligent in attending your doctor’s appointments, following your doctor’s advice, and (VERY IMPORTANTLY) following through on any and all treatments over time. If you were not diligent in pursuing and receiving all recommended treatment for your injuries, insurance companies and juries will assume that your injuries were not that bad. And, as a general rule, treatment with pain pills alone is disfavored by juries and insurance companies, but things like physical therapy, chiropractic care, injections and surgery can both lead to the improvement of your condition and an increase in the value of your claim. But, if your doctor recommends physical therapy and you do not attend the appointments, then the value of your claim decreases very significantly.
Another Tricky Thing About Auto Accident Case Value
If you think about being injured, oftentimes you do not know the extent of your injuries when the accident first happens. On the other hand, sometimes unfortunately the extent of the injuries is very clear, particularly in catastrophic injury cases, such as loss of life or limb or paraplegia or quadraplegia, and in those cases the value of the case might be much easier to determine if the available insurance coverage is not that high (although, if there is a high dollar insurance claim, or defendant with extensive assets, then catastrophic injury damages become very complex and can involve economic experts to calculate life care costs among other expenses). But, in less than catastrophic cases, such as a neck or back injury case, the pain may be very severe in the beginning, but then get better and completely heal over time. Or the pain may never resolve. When the pain does not resolve, usually there is something in the scans that shows why the person is experiencing pain, and often ongoing treatments can help with ongoing pain. So the person first injured in an accident begins treatment and the accident lawyer does not know how the person’s medical condition or treatment will evolve. So they cannot possibly know the amount of damages early in many cases. They basically must adopt a “wait and see” approach.
If the injures are severe and permanent, the damages can be very high, ranging from many thousands, to many hundreds of thousands, to even millions in catastrophic injury cases. As a general rule, the more treatment you need and receive over time, the higher the value of your claim. Also, the more serious the treatment, the higher the value of the claim, so that someone who needs surgery will often recover more than someone who only needs injections. And someone who needs injections will often recover more than someone who only needs physical therapy. And, again, treatment with pain pills alone is both bad for your body and bad for your lawsuit value. Jurors (and therefore insurance adjusters and attorneys) tend to have a jaded view of those who rely on pain pills alone, although definitely sometimes pain pills are very necessary as an additional treatment modality in severe injury or auto accident cases. But pain pills alone (without trying other available and recommended treatments) will not garner a very high case value in most situations.
Damages in catastrophic or severe injury, or wrongful death, cases involve more complex elements of analysis and proof, so are beyond the scope of this article. But, you have a potential claim of that nature, and you call me, I will gladly elaborate.