Part One of Two – “How Much Is My Case Worth?” – It’s one of the most common questions I field: “how much is my case worth?” There is no good, short, accurate answer, aside from “whatever an insurance adjuster or judge/jury says it’s worth.”
People want answers, and I strive to provide them, yet I can’t help but say “it depends” when faced with the popular inquiry. Sure, an injured party is typically entitled to the medical expenses and lost wages incurred. I say “typically” because more and more, insurance companies are not fully compensating injured parties for these amounts, looking for any reason to cut either amount. And beyond the “hard specials” that have been incurred (medicals and lost wages), there is the difficult-to-quantify-and-equally-hard-to-evaluate element of “non-economic damages,” that is, pain and suffering.
So what drives the value of a personal injury case? Here are some of the factors upon which “it” (the value of a case) depends, in no particular order. (Lawyer’s Disclaimer: as with anything else on this site, nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice. No two cases are alike, even if all of the factors below match up. No two adjusters are alike and no two juries are going to evaluate a case exactly the same. Further, there is much more that could be said about each factor below. This is intended as a brief, introductory discussion of factors to be considered, not an exhaustive recitation of the topic. To properly evaluate a person injury case, contact me or another attorney for a more in-depth discussion about the facts of your individual situation.)
the injury – Clearly, the severity of the injury is a major factor in determining how an insurance adjuster (or a judge/jury, if litigation becomes necessary) evaluates a case. A fracture is more objective than a strain, for instance and, as such, will typically lead to a higher settlement figure. Likewise, an injury that never resolves is more valuable in terms of settlement/likely judgment numbers than an injury that quickly heals (assuming that ongoing injury is objectively verified by a medical professional, obviously).
the circumstances – Is fault for the incident clear and weigh in the injured party’s favor? If so, there is less risk of a defense or compromise verdict at trial, so the insurance company will likely be willing to offer “full settlement value” on these cases. But in cases where fault is unclear or where there’s any evidence tending to show that the injured party was at-fault (even partially), the insurance company will factor this in and, in all probability, lessen the settlement figure, reasoning that the odds that a judge/jury reduces or entirely precludes a recovery are higher. In Maryland, an injured party must contend with “contributory negligence,” which entirely precludes an injured party from recovering if they were even the slightest bit at fault and that fault contributed to the incident in question. This is an archaic maxim that inures to the benefit of the insurance companies and manifests itself not only in defense verdicts (where plaintiffs are 100% denied recovery at trial) but also compromise verdicts (where juries reduce verdicts to avoid stalemates and get home to their families/every day lives).
the injured person’s appearance – I don’t just mean “looks” or how a person dresses, though these factors can and do come into play, for better or worse. A better way to phrase it is “how will the injured party present at trial, if the matter proceeded to that point?” Prior to litigation, an insurance company is largely in the dark about how a person making a claim will appear if trial is eventually necessary; but don’t think its adjusters aren’t trying to piece together clues. They will run that person’s name against the Maryland Case Judiciary Search to try to gain some insight into who that person is. More importantly, they will run a search of any and all prior claims that person has made in the past against an insurance database. Next, they may try and look that person up on social media or other internet sites to see who that person is and what types of things they’ve put out there for the world to see. The end goal is try to determine whether that person would be credible/likable/sympathetic if they had to defend the case in court. Is it fair to judge a book by the cover they create by piecing together bits of largely irrelevant and oftentimes inadmissible information? For the insurance companies, this isn’t about “what’s fair.” It’s about “what’s best for the company’s bottom line.”
the venue – Where the matter will eventually be tried if litigation is necessary is another factor to consider when evaluating likely ranges of value. (I say “ranges of value” because no one, no matter how experienced, should pretend to know exact values. Even predicting ranges is difficult. But saying a case is worth “between x and z” is usually going to be more helpful (and accurate) over the long run than saying a case is worth “x to the penny.”) Venue is most often determined by looking to where the incident occurred or where the at-fault party lives, works or regularly conducts business. For instance, if an auto accident occurs in Baltimore County but the future defendant lives in Baltimore City, the case could be brought in either the City or County. Which would be more beneficial? Well, that’s where things get more complicated. Does the case have a high enough potential value such that a jury would be necessary? (Any case where a party is asking for more than 15k in damages is subject to a jury trial prayer.) My recommendation to a client on where to file in this hypothetical is going to be largely based on how much we’re going to seek at trial. For example, it’s no secret that the average jury selected in Baltimore County is going to be more conservative and thus more pro-defendant than the average jury that’s seated in Baltimore City (though I’m also of the mind that there’s been a noticeable trend in the past 5 years or so where this divide has softened). Thus, if we’re seeking 15k or less, I’ll probably recommend Baltimore County. But if we’re seeking in excess of 15k and I’m reasonably assured that the defendant/insurer will pray a jury trial, I’d likely recommend Baltimore City. A block or two can make a big difference in terms of the potential value of one’s case.
Thanks for reading. Check back next week for Part Two of “How Much Is My Case Worth?”