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The Value of Your Personal Injury Claim

The Value of my Claim: Contents

A Word of Caution

john bisnar

No one can tell you what you are going to recover for your injury claim before it actually settles or a jury verdict is rendered. There are hundreds of factors that come into play to determine what your eventual recovery will be. When we know the hundred factors that apply to your case, we'll have a pretty good idea of the range within which your case will settle and/or a range that a jury is likely to award.

One of the things that you have going for you is that the lawyer's compensation is based upon a percentage of what he recovers for you. We want to recover as much as we can for you. It's in both of our best interests. We have the experience of thousands of cases that we will use that experience to get you the best outcome we can.

What you are about to read is for educational purposes only. It's not meant to predict how much money you can expect, but to explain the general guidelines used to evaluate a claim.

The Value of Your Claim

In reading through the different factors that will affect the outcome of your case, you'll not like some or much of what you'll learn.

You may not agree with the factors or wonder why something entirely outside of your control is such a big factor in determining how much you are likely to receive.

We understand how you feel. Most of our clients feel the same way. Our goal here is to educate you about the factors that may influence your case.

The value of your claim is what you can collect. For example, a severe paralysis case with millions of dollars of medical expenses and millions of dollars of lost income is worth only $15,000 if that's all that can be collected from the wrongdoer. if the wrongdoer has no assets or insurance, the case could be worth nothing.

But a broken arm resulting from a clear liability car accident with a drunk driver who has multiple drunken driving convictions and a million dollar insurance policy is generally worth $20,000 to $50,000, or more, depending upon the severity of the break, lost income and future impairment.

Insurance companies generally value a claim at what a jury would award minus your costs of going to trial, multiplied by the chances of winning, minus the time value of money.

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7 Primary Factors Affecting the Value of Your Claim

Here are the seven primary factors that determine the value of your personal injury claim:

  • Your injury and resulting losses
  • You and the type of witness you make for yourself
  • The amount of insurance available to pay claims
  • The wrongdoer, the type of witness he/she will make and what he/she was doing at the time of the accident
  • The jurisdiction of your case
  • The particular judge and jury you draw
  • The skill and reputation of your legal team

Let's examine each of these in greater detail:

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Factor No. 1: Your injury and Resulting Losses

in theory, the more severe the injury and/or the greater the medical bills for surgery, treatment and therapy, the higher the value of the claim.

For example, a leg broken in multiple places that required surgery to repair has a higher claim value than a fractured forearm requiring no surgery.

However, a whiplash type spinal injury that may have degenerating effects through your life has less claim value than a fractured arm that heals in a couple of months. This is true even though the medical bills will be three to five times higher for the whiplash than for the broken arm.

Why? Jurors typically don't like an injury they can't see. They can see an x-ray of a fractured arm. They can't see the pain and discomfort of a whiplash type spinal injury. They rarely ever buy the argument that years off in the future the whiplash injury is likely to cause accelerated spinal degeneration and the resulting complications.

More Sympathetic Jury = Higher Award

There are many things that make a jury sympathetic to your cause. For example, the more visible and understandable an injury is, generally the more sympathetic a jury will be. And a more sympathetic jury usually means a higher amount of award.

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Factor No. 2: You and the Type of Witness You Make

Whether or not a jury has sympathy for you has a lot to do with their liking you. The more they like you, generally the more sympathetic they are. The more sympathetic they are, the more they generally award.

Will they feel empathy for you? Or will they dislike you? What prejudices will they have for and against you? Have they been in a similar accident? Have they known someone with the same injury as you?

These personal prejudices by the jury do affect the value of your claim if it goes to trial. And an insurance adjuster's perception of a jury's prejudices will affect the value an insurance company places on your claim.

To get you the best result for your claim, it's up to your lawyer to present you and your injury in a way that will be favorably received by the insurance adjuster or jury.

If you want more information or you believe you have a personal injury claim that you need help with, please call 949-203-3814 for a case review.

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Factor No. 3: The Amount of Insurance Available

The true value of a claim is what you can get for it.

in most situations, when the defendant (the wrongdoer, the person or company we're making a claim against) is either a person or a small company, the realistic maximum amount of money that can be collected -- regardless of the injury -- is the amount of the insurance.

Rarely does it make economic sense to pursue defendants beyond the amount of insurance coverage they have.

In the case of an injury that had a judgment value of $500,000 and a defendant that only has a $50,000 insurance policy, the choices are 1. Do you settle the case for $50,000 or 2. Go to trial to get a judgment for $500,000?

Once you accept the $50,000 policy limit, the case is done and there is no legal right to go after more.

If you reject the $50,000 and go after the $500,000 judgment, the defendant's insurance company defends the defendant all the way through trial.

Typically a trial seeking a $500,000 award in a personal injury case is going to incur litigation costs betien $50,000 and $100,000. Assuming you win your case and get the $500,000 judgment, the insurance company pays the $50,000 policy limit.

After the insurance company pays the $50,000, the defendant still ois $450,000. How do you collect $450,000 from someone without substantial assets? if you oid someone $450,000 due to losing lawsuit, what would you do? File bankruptcy?

So you see, in all but the rarest of cases, the maximum your claim can be worth is the total of all insurance coverage covering the injury event.

Included in that "total" is any applicable "underinsured" or "uninsured" insurance policy provisions that you have in place.

In our example above, if the defendant has only $50,000 in insurance coverage, your claim is worth $500,000 and you have a $500,000 "underinsured" motorist provision in auto insurance policy that covers you, $450,000 in coverage is available to you.

In this situation the claim really is worth $500,000 because there is adequate insurance to cover the entire amount of the damages.

This is one of the reasons why we encourage everyone to carry high "uninsured" and "underinsured" motorist provisions in the motor vehicle accident insurance policies.

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Factor No. 4: The Defendant's Story

Ok, so what difference does it make who the defendant (the person who caused the accident) is or what they were doing at the time of the accident?

Let's consider 3 examples:

Example 1:

If the defendant is an intoxicated gasoline delivery truck driver who runs a red light at high speed, a jury will award more than if the defendant is a grandmotherly-type person on her way to deliver food baskets to the poor who accidentally rear ended you at a stop sign.

Example 2:

If your accident was caused by a giant of a man who looks like a Hell's Angel, a jury will award more money than if the defendant is the local "grammar school teacher of the year" award winner.

Example 3:

If your accident was caused by the 21 year-old son of a wealthy family who was drag racing in a brand-new Ferrari, the jury is going to award a higher amount than if the defendant is a 21 year-old local war hero just returned from a tour of duty in a war zone driving an old Honda Civic.

As you can see, who the defendant is and what they were doing at the time of the accident have a very significant effect on the value of your case.

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Factor No. 5: The Jurisdiction of Your Case

If your claim does not settle and a lawsuit is filed, it must be filed in a court that has jurisdiction over both the subject matter of the lawsuit (where the accident happened) and the person being sued (residence of the defendant).

The law to be applied to a case is different in different jurisdictions (This is called "substantive law.")

Courts in different jurisdictions might have vastly different rules of evidence and court rules. Both of these can greatly affect your ability to prove your case.

Therefore, what jurisdiction your case is in can make a huge difference on the substantive law that will be applied to your case, the types of damages that are recoverable and what evidence will be admissible.

So what does this all mean to you? Well, the law and the evidence affect the likelihood of your winning a case and the ultimate award that a jury may make.

Now you know why attorneys fight over where a lawsuit is going to be filed and defendants complain that plaintiffs "forum shop" for the best jurisdictions.

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Factor No. 6: The Judge in Your Case and the Jury You Draw

The judge your case is assigned to can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case.

Some judges are pro defendant and have a bias against personal injury lawsuits. Some judges are former personal injury attorneys and are somewhat sympathetic to a seriously-injured accident victim.

During the discovery phase of a lawsuit, the judge may make many discovery orders that determine what information the various sides will have to provide each other.

Judges also make many rulings that will decide what evidence gets presented to the jury and what instructions the jury will receive at the end of a trial. So having a judge that will give a plaintiff a fair trial makes all the difference in the world.

Jurors, like judges, come to court with their own biases and prejudices.

Jurors in some jurisdictions are pro business and anti consumer. Some jurors are so prejudiced by insurance company propaganda campaigns they pretty much believe anyone pursuing a personal injury claim is faking.

Then there are some jurisdictions that defendants hate and plaintiffs love because the jurors are historically generous. Generally, in more rural areas jurors award less money in damages than jurors in bigger cities, especially where the cost of living is greater.

With judges, we generally have a pretty good idea which way the judge is leaning and what his rulings are likely to be. However, with juries, since every jury is different, we can only go by regional trends. So the judge and jury are likely to draw play a role in valuing your case.

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Factor No. 7: The Skill and Reputation of Your Legal Team

Who your attorneys are, how well they are known and what their reputations are make a huge difference in the value of a claim.

Before we had done a half dozen cases against auto makers, car manufacturers were not interested in settling a case with us for a fair amount of money. we had not proven ourselves to them.

However, after we successfully concluded some rather large cases against them, auto makers were interested in settling cases with us early in the litigation process for fair money.

When we deal with insurance companies or defense attorneys who know us or know our reputation, fair settlements come more easily. Since the Bisnar Chase Personal injury Attorneys have handled thousands of cases over three decades, we have dealt with nearly every insurance company operating in California and many, if not most, of the biggest insurance defense law firms.

For example, Brian Chase, our litigation partner, sometimes has a perceived advantage over the defense attorneys in our cases when they realize that Brian and the judge know each other from numerous bar association events, from being on a panel together on lawyer continuing education programs or from legal articles Brian has written that judges still depend upon.

Or the judges know him from being past president of the trial lawyers association, or just because Brian has done trials in that judge's court room before.

We have had defense attorneys try to get a change in the judge because they thought the judge was going to favor us. All of these factors help to build settlement value in a case.

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Final Thoughts

Although we've now gone over the biggest factors in valuing a case, you still probably don't have a clear idea of what your case is worth. Don't worry. That's typical. And that's because there are so very many variables that affect what your case is worth.

Within some vague parameters we can guess at the ultimate value of your case.

However, until we know

  • The full extent of your injuries
  • What your medical expenses are going to be
  • How full of a recovery you going to make
  • What the defense's position is regarding your case and
  • What jurisdiction we are likely to be in

It is not possible to give you a realistic estimate of the value of your case.

At some point, all of the information needs to be gathered to value your case. If you choose Bisnar Chase to represent you we will review your case and have a discussion about its value. we will calculate all the variables and tell you what we think and why. You can read about a lawyer's research during this process in our timeline of a typical car accident case.

If you would like to start this process, please call 949-203-3814. The consultation is free and you are under no obligation to pick Bisnar Chase to represent you. You have nothing to lose and a lot of valuable information to gain.

- John Bisnar

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